Defensive end Danielle Hunter returned to the practice fields at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Tuesday for the first time since September, when the Vikings' star edge rusher was still trying to recover from a herniated disc in his neck.
With a reworked contract done and a financial gap bridged, Hunter was mostly a spectator as the Vikings kicked off a three-day mandatory minicamp that ends the team's spring sessions. He's less than eight months removed from neck surgery, but his teammates were happy to have Hunter back in the fold, even if he's still wearing a visor instead of a helmet.
"Everybody's got their own business side going on, so as a player, definitely respect that," safety Harrison Smith said. "But also very happy to have Danielle back. He's a tough guy to replace. He's a game-wrecker for us and it's good to see him, good to have him around. Just his presence, you want a guy like that in the locker room."
Hunter, who missed all of last season and skipped three weeks of voluntary practices this spring, walked through some defensive line drills and technique work with teammates. He otherwise stayed close to assistant head coach Andre Patterson, the team's defensive line guru, along with recently-signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
"Tremendous talent," Richardson said of Hunter. "I always seem to be playing with some kind of freak-of-nature defensive end for the past five years. It's been great and the season I had with Danielle was great. His contract's a little bit bigger now, so that's the difference between me and Danielle."
"I know what Danielle does and how to play with Danielle," Richardson added. "That's not a problem. Now just making sure I know how to play with everybody else on the D-line."
Corners out and limited
Three cornerbacks – Jeff Gladney, Kris Boyd, and Tye Smith – were among four players absent from the start of this week's minicamp. Rookie kicker Riley Patterson was also not spotted. With corners Bashaud Breeland and Cameron Dantzler limited by injuries, the Harrison Hand remained a busy man.
Hand, a 2020 fifth-round pick out of Temple, again took first-team reps alongside cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander. Hand worked on the outside as a starter and mixed in as the second-team slot cornerback on Tuesday.
First-rounder Christian Darrisaw ramped up his 11-on-11 work at offensive tackle, but was limited to three plays at a time as he recovers from a strained groin that was operated on in January. Chazz Surratt, the rookie linebacker out of North Carolina, returned after missing two weeks of organized team activities, but was held out of practice Tuesday for an undisclosed reason.
Kellen Mond signs
Quarterback Kellen Mond became the eighth of 11 draft picks to sign his four-year rookie deal, the Vikings announced Tuesday.
Mond, the third-round pick (66th overall) out of Texas A&M, is under contract for up to $5.223 million, which is a value slotted by his draft position. His signing bonus – the guaranteed part of his deal – is worth nearly $1.2 million.
The Vikings have three more rookies to get under contract: Surratt, guard Wyatt Davis and defensive end Patrick Jones II, all third-round picks.
Receiver Adam Thielen said he's seeing a more confident and relaxed Justin Jefferson ahead of the standout rookie's second NFL season. Thielen, now a ninth-year pro, is still picking up a few tips from his 22-year-old teammate, such as perfecting the now-famous "Griddy" touchdown dance.
"I have it down pretty good," Thielen said. "I had to go back. I saw Kirk talk to you guys last week, and he said he watched all of his games and tried to improve. Well, I watched all of my 'Griddy' and tried to improve over the offseason, so it's getting better."