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Lunchbreak: NFC North Lands at No. 2 in Division Power Rankings

The NFC North division race seems every year to be a fairly tight one.

Tavarres King, whom the Vikings signed in free agency, recently expressed excitement to Vikings.com about joining the “Black and Blue” division.

“It’s an extremely tough division,” King said. “Great talent in this division, great coaches in this division, and a lot of games come down to two-minute situations. I’m excited about that. Excited to see what we can do.”

The NFC North’s reputation is league wide, and it recently was reflected in power rankings by NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal. He ranked the eight divisions according to talent, placing the NFC North second on the list. For the Vikings specifically, Rosenthal highlighted the addition of Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson, along with adding depth at receiver in free agency, signing King and Kendall Wright. Rosenthal wrote:

This is no longer the Aaron Rodgers Invitational. The Vikings kept all the best parts of their NFC title game squad while upgrading at quarterback, defensive tackle and the No. 3 receiver spot. Matthew Stafford has the perfect combination of scheme continuity, weapons and a bolstered offensive line to enjoy a career season. Rodgers is due for another MVP campaign that reminds everyone he might be the most talented ever at his position, while the Bears finally look interesting again.

According to Rosenthal, the division’s “key game” will be in Week 2, when the Vikings hit the road for the first September game at Lambeau Field since 2008.

Topping Rosenthal’s list was the NFC South – Saints, Panthers, Falcons, Buccaneers.

Great divisions are competitive from top to bottom, and the Bucs' stirring comeback win over the Saints in Week 17 of last season was a reminder that there are no easy games here. It was also a window into Tampa's potential, which should be more fully realized now that the Bucs have bolstered their defensive line this offseason.

Rosenthal opined that the NFC South is the only division where “all four teams are realistic threats for double-digit wins.”

Krammer conducts Q&A with Vikings DBs coach Jerry Gray

Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has quite the resume of talent over nearly two decades of coaching in the NFL ranks.

The former cornerback earned four Pro Bowl nods during his time with the Rams, and his accolades continued far after hanging up his helmet, having coached defensive backs that include Antoine Winfield, Troy Vincent, DeAngelo Hall and many others before joining the Vikings in 2014.

In Minnesota, Gray has worked with All-Pros Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith and has helped younger players, such as Trae Waynes, also find their strides. Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune recently published a Q&A with Gray. Below are a few excerpts.

*Q: After having one of the league’s best defenses last year, you added Mike Hughes in the first round. How is he fitting into your group so far? *

A: He’s fitting in. He’s learning. He’s a rookie. I think that’s a lot of times, guys forget about what happens when you go from college to pros. The NFL is a lot more demanding mentally. He’s learning that. It’s not all about talent, running the 40 and stuff like that. It’s about, ‘Can you get into the playbook? Do you make mental mistakes?’ All those things have to start taking priority right now. We give you a bunch of stuff and we’re trying to learn how much can you absorb in order to be prepared? Because right now it’s mental not so much physical.

[…]

*Q: Did you get everything you wanted out of that slot position last year? *

*A: Yeah. We had a combination of Mackensie [Alexander] and [Terence] Newman doing it, and they did a really good job. They were able to hold down guys we needed to. ‘Do we have to put a smaller guy here? What about a Newman?’ OK, we played him against two tight ends sometimes. Now he’s really a linebacker, and he can play a tight end. When you watch our film, we did a really good job of matching guys to their ability. Getting the blessing with Mike, I think he’s going to add to what we can keep doing. *

*Q: Can you keep six or seven corners on this roster? *

A: Hey, if they keep adding them, I’m not going to turn them away.

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