EAGAN, Minn. -- When wide receiver Don Beebe entered the NFL in 1989, he bought a JUGS machine for $2,200. That investment is still paying off.
Beebe utilized the pass-catching device throughout his nine-year pro career. And now his son, Vikings receiver Chad Beebe, is using it.
“It’s got duct tape on it and its screws have been replaced and it’s been through a lot, but it’s still hanging in there,” Don Beebe said Monday, July 22. “Chad is wearing out that JUGS machine. That’s what he does for a living. He’s catching hundreds and hundreds of balls out of a JUGS machine, and that’s why I think he’s got very good ball skills.”
After catching four passes for 39 yards in three games for the Vikings last season as an undrafted rookie, Chad Beebe continues to improve. Vikings assistant head coach and offensive adviser Gary Kubiak said last month after the conclusion of spring drills that Beebe “had probably as good an offseason as any player” on offense.
Whether Beebe can become Minnesota’s No. 3 receiver behind stars Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs is one of the key position battles entering training camp at the TCO Performance Center. He primarily will compete against Laquon Treadwell and Jordan Taylor for that third spot.
The Vikings announced Monday that 37 rookies and select veterans reported for camp Monday, and they will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All other players, including Beebe, will report Thursday, with the first full-squad workout on Friday.
Don Beebe, who caught 219 career passes for Buffalo, Carolina and Green Bay and played in four Super Bowls, knows something about being a No. 3 receiver behind two stars. He was Buffalo’s No. 3 guy behind hall of famers Andre Reed and James Lofton for four seasons, and sees some similarities if his son moves into that roll.
“I think there’s a big jump between your rookie year and your second year,” said Don Beebe, now head coach at Division III Aurora (Ill.) University. “I know it was for me. He’s really trained hard this offseason. … I think he’s going to build his name and they won’t even remember who I am after he’s done.”
The JUGS machine could help in that regard. Don Beebe said one drill he passed on to his son is standing about a foot away from the machine while the ball shoots out at 65 mph.
“I wanted to get used to catching Brett Favre missiles,” said Don Beebe, who caught 41 passes from the Green Bay hall of fame quarterback over two seasons, in 1996 and 1997. “It breaks down the nerves in your hand, and so it softens your hands and at the same time strengthens your hands. But you’ve got to make sure sure you don’t blow your finger out, and you’ve got to wear a helmet, so you don’t get hit in the face.”
Chad Beebe has been doing that and other drills regularly with the machine since spring drills concluded in mid-June in mostly 90-degree heat in his hometown of Aurora, outside Chicago.
Beebe also is using the machine to work on punt returns. With Marcus Sherels signing as a free agent with New Orleans, the Vikings need a new punt returner, and Beebe is a strong candidate.
“He’s been catching a lot of punts out of the JUGS machine,” his father said. “We like to pick really windy days and we go to the football field and shoot balls way up there.”
Beebe next will take the field for the Vikings on Friday. He will be involved in two of five key position battles in training camp. Here they are:
NO. 3 RECEIVER
Beebe, Laquon Treadwell and Jordan Taylor will compete for the Vikings’ No. 3 receiver job. Treadwell, who has underachieved since being taken No. 23 in the 2016 draft, is entering the final year of his contract. If he doesn’t show improvement in camp, he could be released. Taylor intrigues the Vikings after playing his past four seasons in Denver.
The backup quarterback job is up for grabs between Sean Mannion, who played the past four seasons with the Rams, and Kyle Sloter, who is entering his third year with the Vikings but hasn’t taken a regular-season snap. Kirk Cousins played every down last season, but a backup quarterback proved important in 2017 when Case Keenum replaced an injured Sam Bradford and led Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.
NO. 2 RUNNING BACK
Minnesota needs a backup running back behind Dalvin Cook after Latavius Murray signed as a free agent with the Saints, and there are several candidates. The Vikings selected Alexander Mattison in the third round of the draft out of Boise State, and they like his rugged style. Holdover candidates include Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone.
DEFENSIVE LINE SUBS
Starting spots on a strong defensive line are set with ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, and tackles Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen. But there will be plenty of competition for roster spots. End Stephen Weatherly and tackle Jaleel Johnson look to be locks. Among those competing for perhaps three other spots will be ends Tashawn Bower, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Ade Aruna, and tackles Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata’afa and rookie Armon Watts.
PUNT, KICK RETURNERS
The Vikings must solidify their return specialists. Beebe might primarily compete with Taylor on punts. Abdullah is the favorite on kickoffs after holding down that the role the second half of 2018. Mike Hughes began last season returning kicks role before tearing his ACL in Week 6. Hughes could be a candidate for both punt and kickoff returns but was sidelined all of spring drills, so Minnesota might not want to rush him. Cornerback Holton Hill is getting looks on punts and kickoffs, but he is suspended for the first four games of the season.