Over the past three seasons, Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter has recorded 25½ sacks, the 16th most in the league and the second-highest mark for any player under 25 years old.
The Vikings knew that keeping Hunter was key to their continued success and signed the former third-round pick to a five-year, $72 million deal. Hunter joins Everson Griffen (fourth-round pick, 2010) and Brian Robison (fourth-round pick, 2007) in a long line of defensive ends who have become foundational pieces for the Vikings who fell late in the draft.
Hunter, who had a sack and a quarterback hurry Saturday in the Vikings’ 14-10 preseason loss to Jacksonville, said that his whole career he has focused on football and let the rest follow.
“Ever since I have been little I have been playing football, and that has been taking care of itself for me to go to the next level and the next level,” Hunter said. “It’s one thing that you go out there and just continue to play and everything will take care of itself in the future.”
What’s amazing about Hunter is that he came into the league at just 20 years old and has already had this success. Hunter won’t turn 24 until October. For comparisons sake, Robison reached that mark in his sixth season at age 29. Griffen, one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, reached it after five seasons, at age 27.
How does Hunter account for his development?
“Just everything over time comes with technique and repetition,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and just be the best player I can be.
“As a defensive player you do not want to be blocked. No one wants to be blocked. You want to be your best, get off blocks as quickly as possible in order to make plays.”
Success a team game
Hunter said his goal this year is to continue to improve the defense in any way he can. He said he views a lot of his success as coming from both the Vikings’ defensive scheme and his teammates.
“It’s all about going in and doing your job, taking it seriously, paying attention to the older guys I had in front of me and just focusing.” he said. “That’s all that it’s about. I have been doing it since Day 1. I don’t look too far into the future. I just look at what’s now and I continue to improve off what I’ve learned from the coaches and the players.
“Between [defensive line] Coach [Andre] Patterson, [assistant defensive line] Coach [Robert] Rodriguez, Coach [Mike] Zimmer, you have Everson, B Rob, LJ [Linval Joseph], they have all taught me things I have been able to go out in the field and use towards helping the defense.”
He said playing for Zimmer means that the defense is studied so closely it creates a kind of perfectionism.
“When he watches film he goes over every single player before he goes to the next rep,” Hunter said. “That’s something that has really helped each one of us as players, because we go out and focus on the little things. That is something he likes. He likes when we go out there and continue to focus on the little things.”
That kind of detail also shows how sacks are built by more than one person.
“Sacks are important to any defensive lineman,” he said. “We go out and want to have sacks. But we have to play within the schematics of the defense. The sacks come whenever you execute the game plan.”
Hunter said that adding Sheldon Richardson, who had one sack with Seattle last season but eight with the Jets in 2014, should help the rush.
“He has been helping us a lot on defense. He brings pressure up the middle, which is something we need on defense and it’s something we all like as defensive players,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to really help us out in order to be able to rush the passer.”
And while everyone is talking Super Bowl with the Vikings, Hunter said that’s a ways from his mind.
“That’s the goal with any team,” he said. “Any team wants to go as far as they can, but like I said you can’t look into the future like that. You have to take it practice by practice, game by game, work week by week.”
Siemian a quick study
After completing 11 of 17 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings preseason opener, Trevor Siemian was 5-for-10 for 46 yards Saturday against the Jaguars.
The past few seasons have seen the Vikings lean on backups more than they’d like, but there’s no doubt that Siemian, who played in 25 games over the past two seasons for the Broncos and threw for 5,686 yards and 30 touchdowns, will be ready if needed.
“I think experience certainly helps, but you can never get enough reps or have enough experience,” Siemian said about the preseason. “Every rep is so valuable, especially this time of year.”
He said that playing so many snaps in the league is sure to benefit him, but he still has to make sure this system is locked in his mind.
“You’re just trying to hammer out terminology, but there is carry-over in this stuff,” he said. “Some things are taught differently, it’s just learning the nuances.”
• Gophers coach P.J. Fleck went first class when it came to hiring nutritionist Leslee Sholomskas. “Leslee came to us from the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and she’s running her own nutrition program and I see a huge difference in our players,” he said.
• The loss of Vikings offensive guard Nick Easton will be a big one, because the coaching staff rates him with the best at his position in the league.
• Former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson continues to say he wants to play, but so far he hasn’t found a team that will take a chance on him.
• Buster Olney of ESPN has speculated that the Yankees could try to add a first baseman before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline to replace Greg Bird, who is hitting .210. One name that has come up is Joe Mauer, who could potentially go play some meaningful playoff games and come back to the Twins.
• Derek Falvey on how he expects the Twins to improve this offseason: “It’s all about building through your pipeline and your development core. We need our group to take a step forward. We have an opportunity in this offseason to add through free agency and trades, and we’ll move this thing forward.”
• Unlike other years, the Gophers have several players from 2017 in NFL training camps, including Nate Wozniak (Saints), Steven Richardson (Chargers), Jonathan Celestin (Falcons) and Ryan Santoso (Lions).
• It’s interesting that Jamal Crawford turned down a $4.5 million player option and left the Wolves for free agency but hasn’t joined any team yet.
• Through his first 33 pro games, former Gophers shortstop Terrin Vavra was hitting .316 with three homers, two triples, five doubles, 23 RBI and 17 runs scored for the Boise Hawks of the Pirates system.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org