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Lunchbreak: Defense Could Determine if Vikings Reach Ceiling in 2020

Verizon Vikings Training Camp is chugging along, as the team will practice in pads today for the third consecutive day.

That also means the 2020 regular season is drawing nearer, with Minnesota's Week 1 home opener against Green Bay just 25 days away.

ESPN recently had all of its NFL beat writers look at the ceiling and floor for the teams they cover, and the biggest variable teams could face once games are played.

Courtney Cronin, the ESPN Vikings beat reporter, opined that Minnesota could produce another double-digit win season in 2020, but that the Vikings defense will play a big role in getting there.

Cronin, who wrote she believes the Vikings could go 11-5 if things go well, wrote:

[The biggest variable is] how quickly the Vikings' defense finds its footing with young players and new faces filling important roles. Minnesota ranked second in expected points allowed in the red zone in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, and allowed the fifth-fewest points.

Those are high marks for a defense that went through periods of up-and-down play last season. … If the Vikings' young corners can hold their own early, and the team doesn't experience a drop-off with its pass-rush, Minnesota could teeter closer to double-digits in the win column.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has set — and maintained — a high standard for his defense since arriving in 2014, and especially over the past five seasons.

Minnesota has finished in the top nine in points allowed per game in each of the past five seasons, with the Vikings making the playoffs three times in that span.

But with possibly three new starters at cornerback, plus some increased roles for some defensive linemen, Zimmer's defense has endured more roster turnover than during the past few seasons of remarkable continuity.

Yet, as Cronin mentioned, if those players can exceed expectations, the Vikings could once again be looking at double-digit wins and a possible postseason berth.

Green Bay's ceiling was also listed at 11-5, while Chicago was at 10-6 and Detroit's was a winning record of 9-7.

Hasan offers observations of Vikings WRs in camp

Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently posted 73 observations regarding 73 different Vikings players in training camp so far.

And while we won't get into all of them here, Hasan did have some praise for Minnesota's wide receivers group.

To start, he has liked what he has seen from Pro-Bowler Adam Thielen, noting Thielen "is in a class of his own among the receivers."

Hasan wrote:

He's been able to separate instantly at the release and generates even more throughout the route. As good as some of the corners in camp have been, they've had a difficult time keeping up with him — a good sign that his hamstring injury [from 2019] hasn't kept him from performing at a top-notch level.

Hasan opined he has seen some ups and downs from first-rounder Justin Jefferson, but noted that likely has to do with not being able to get on the field with his teammates and coaches for offseason practices this year due to the pandemic.

That said, he's looked good off press, something he didn't deal with much in his final year at LSU as a slot receiver but saw a fair amount as a sophomore given his outside responsibilities. Though Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak has indicated he foresees the greatest level of comfort for Jefferson in the slot given his most recent experience there, he's already beginning to prove his worth as a potential outside receiver. If he can do that, it frees up Thielen for his most effective role on the inside.

Hasan also singled out Chad Beebe, who missed nearly all of last season with an ankle injury.

Of the backups, Chad Beebe might be looking the best. His biggest problems — drops and deep speed — haven't really shown up much in camp thus far. He's done an excellent job getting open, though the nature of his style of route-running is such that he looks better in one-on-ones, where there's significantly more space, than in 11-on-11 drills. He's had some difficulty with option routes, which is a classic responsibility for a slot receiver, especially in Kubiak's system.

Beebe had two receptions for 70 yards in 2019, including a 61-yard gain against the Packers in Week 2 at Lambeau Field.

Beebe and the rest of his teammates continue camp practices at 2 p.m. (CT) today at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan.