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Lunchbreak: NFL.com Says 3 of Top 9 Defenses Reside in NFC North

The Vikings defense topped the NFL in 2017 and fell just a few spots to fourth overall last season.

Where will Minnesota land this year?

Recently, Adam Schein of NFL.com predicted the league’s top nine defenses and slotted the Vikings at No. 7, which some may consider a bit low considering the fact that Minnesota’s defense retained nearly all its key pieces. Schein wrote:

[The Vikings fared] much better in the second half of 2018 than it was in the first half of the season. Everson Griffen’s return after missing Weeks 3-7 played a huge role in the improvement, and having him back in the fold for the full campaign should help the Vikings play to their potential throughout 2019.

Mike Zimmer has a stout defensive line with Griffen, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter disrupting the backfield. Getting Anthony Barr to change his mind and spurn the Jets in free agency was big. The Vikings secondary, led by Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, is great. Smith is one of two defensive backs to make the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons (the other is the Cardinals Patrick Peterson).

Bottom line: Minnesota has ranked in the top nine in scoring defense in each of the past four years under Zimmer, so they seem like about as safe a bet as any to be a top-nine attack.

So who, then, came ahead of the Vikings on Schein’s list? He ranked the following teams from 1-9, respectively: Chargers, Cowboys, Bears, Jaguars, Bills, Patriots, Vikings, Falcons, Packers.

View images from the Vikings training camp practice on August 13 at TCO Performance Center.

Vikings vets reflect on team’s past 3 stadiums

The Vikings have called four stadiums “home” for at least two full seasons since the founding of the franchise in 1961.

Three of those facilities were permanent, starting with Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. In 2014 and 2015, the team played on the campus of the University of Minnesota before the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium.

As Sam Ekstrom of Zone Coverage pointed out, only four current Vikings have played in Minnesota’s past three stadiums: Everson Griffen, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes.

Ekstrom spoke with all four of them to hear some of their memories about Metrodome, TCF Bank Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium. Below are some highlights:

“I think it depends what time in your career it was. That was my intro to the NFL, so I’ll always remember the Metrodome for that. […] I loved playing there, it was loud. Everything was kind of in tight.”

– Smith on the Metrodome

“I wouldn’t compare [playing on campus] to playing in college. Only thing I would say that was great about it was playing within the cold. We had teams that really weren’t used to playing in that cold, and we had that advantage because we practice in it. If you’re not in the Midwest, you’re not really used to it at all, so we used that to our advantage.”

– Rhodes on TCF Bank Stadium

“It’s state of the art, yet it’s still very traditional. I think they did a great job in that balancing act. It’s the best there is in football right now, but it’s not over the top with all this crazy stuff. It’s a great fan experience, and for us as players, when we play there at noon and the sun’s out, you feel like you’re outside. The doors can be open, you get a little fresh air, so an incredible home-field advantage.”

– Rudolph on U.S. Bank Stadium

Harris Sets Sight on ‘Pro Bowl-Caliber’ Season

From undrafted free agent to starting safety, Anthony Harris has made tremendous strides since signing with the Vikings in 2015.

After starting nine of 15 games played last season, Harris is slated to be the full-time starter at safety alongside All-Pro Harrison Smith.

Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press caught up this week at Verizon Vikings Training Camp with Harris, who has his sights set on big things for 2019.

“I think I’ve got the ability to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player,” Harris told Tomasson. “That’s all our end goal, to go out and be one of the best. If you’re not really trying to go out there and strive and show you’re one of the best, then you’re kind of cheating yourself. So, you’ve got to put some type of goals out there, and one of my goals is just to try to be one of the best.”

Tomasson wrote that Harris’ aim “is not unreasonable,” referencing the fact that he was ranked the league’s third-best safety in 2018 by analytics site Pro Football Focus. He quoted Smith, who said the following of his teammate:

“He’s good at everything. He can blitz well. He tackles well, plays coverage, and he gets to the ball and catches it when he has the opportunity. So he’s got it all.”

Harris has earned the respect of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, but he said he’s not “necessarily going to be satisfied” just because he has reached the starting role.

“It’s a title I wanted to have, but that’s not the end goal,” Harris told Tomasson.

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