A day after the Vikings were notified nose tackle Michael Pierce was officially their only player opting out of the season, co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said Friday he supports Pierce, told him to get a “good trainer” and a “great nutritionist” and, basically, see you next year.
“Because my focus is on the guys who are here,” Patterson said Friday via videoconference. “I got to get these guys ready to go play. I got to get them to go be able to play well so we can do what we want to do.”
Pierce was one of 67 NFL players who opted out before Thursday’s deadline. With a history of asthma in the family, he was among at least eight players identified as having a qualified “high-risk” condition. Pierce, a former Baltimore player who signed a three-year, $27 million deal in March, can’t do much else for the team but stay safe and in shape, according to Patterson.
“Make the correct choices out there while you’re away,” he said. “Get your great trainer that makes sure you stay in shape and, No. 2, find someone who can cook your meals to make sure you’re eating the correct things.”
Patterson kept his nose tackle options open and noted defensive tackles will rotate during camp. Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson and Armon Watts won praise from Patterson for playing well against a vaunted Cowboys rushing offense last November when the defense lost Linval Joseph to knee surgery. But replacing Pierce, listed at 340 pounds, will be tough.
“Eric Kendricks will tell you that part of the reason that he went to the Pro Bowl are those two big bodies sitting in front of him,” Patterson said. “They allow him to run from sideline to sideline and be free.”
Hoping he can multiply
Entering his ninth season, safety Harrison Smith isn’t as familiar with his surroundings, whether due to COVID-19 protocols or his many rookie teammates. Anthony Harris’ return on the franchise tag could minimize some growing pains. Behind Smith and Harris at safety are Nate Meadors, Josh Metellus, Brian Cole II and Myles Dorn.
“It’s kind of more than just keeping one guy around,” Smith said. “[Harris] is a guy that can multiply, make guys around him better. Especially, it’s no secret that we have a young room, so it’s good to have a couple guys, as many guys as we can, that have a bunch of reps.”
Former Vikings safeties Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse signed with the Browns and Lions, respectively.
Hunter staying put
The offseason departure of Everson Griffen won’t change the way defensive end Danielle Hunter rushes opposing quarterbacks, Patterson said. Hunter, who has 54½ career sacks and became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks last season, will continue to be a left defensive end — rushing against right tackles — for the Vikings.
“You guys would be all over me if I moved him to the right and all of a sudden he wasn’t very good,” Patterson said. “I’m smarter than that. We’re going to keep him where he feels comfortable. Obviously, there are going to be some games where we move him around a little bit.”
Kirk Cousins briefly pushed back against the notion that NFL teams as now like college teams without exhibitions to prepare for the season.
“I remember, though, in college [at Michigan State], my first career start we played Montana State,” the Vikings quarterback said. “That’s no disrespect, but in some ways that was a preseason. We weren’t, you know, playing the Green Bay Packers like we are this year.”