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Bleacher Report – Vikings

‘Raw this, raw that,’ Danielle Hunter is shedding doubts and making an impact

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Coaches and teammates say Danielle Hunter listens more than he talks, so perhaps it’s not a surprise he’s been such a quick study.

The soft-spoken Hunter is letting his play, and others, speak for him. His 3.5 sacks over the last three games lead the Vikings, and have caught the attention of Packers coach Mike McCarthy as the two teams prepare for a NFC North title match on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

“He’s really improved since our first meeting,” McCarthy told local reporters via conference call. “That’s something that really jumps off the film at you…Definitely impressed with Hunter.”

Injuries opened a door, and Hunter has crashed through it with impact play against the run and pass to aid a defensive line in recent need of reinforcements. He’s seen an increased role since the Vikings’ Nov. 22 loss to Green Bay, stepping up from a rotational end — the first guy off the bench for either starter Everson Griffen or Brian Robison — to a fixture in the Vikings’ third-down, pass-rushing line.

Hunter now enters the game when an opponent is in an obvious passing situation. Defensive end Brian Robison has embraced a change as well, shifting inside to defensive tackle with either Tom Johnson or Sharrif Floyd next to him. Hunter and Griffen provide the edge threats, with the four working in unison to throw off offensive linemen with stunts they’re often allowed to call on their own during games.

This defensive line setup was not foreseeable this summer, weeks after the Vikings drafted Hunter in the third round (88th overall).

He was an unpolished youngster, leaving LSU a year early to test his talents in the NFL over learning a new scheme under new coaches in college. General manager Rick Spielman echoed many draft analysts when using the word ‘project’ to describe the road ahead for Hunter, a physically-imposing presence even in a locker room full of oversized human beings.

“I wasn’t too worried about what anyone was saying about me,” Hunter said Wednesday from a frozen practice field. “People always come up to me and talk about ‘Raw this, raw that’ and I’m like ‘All right.’ I don’t really pay attention to that. I just do what the coaches tell me to do.”

Hunter (6-5, 252) does not look the part of NFL’s youngest player, though he is, having just turned 21 years old in late October. He’s long been the standout athlete, capturing his high school’s district title with a 6-foot high jump as a senior. Now, catalyzed by a coaching staff that doesn’t discriminate age over ability, Hunter has taken 351 defensive snaps this season and grown with each step.

His development showed Sunday night when he sacked Eli Manning out of a three-point stance, meaning his his hand is in the dirt. At the snap, Hunter stayed low and accelerated around tackle Marshall Newhouse. He came so quick, all Manning could do was take a knee. Previously, the coaching staff had kept Hunter upright on pass-rushing downs, sort of in a linebacker stance, since he initially struggled with keeping his 6-foot-5-inch frame low enough out of a grounded position.

“I would probably say so,” said Zimmer, when asked if Hunter is ahead of the curve. “He’s improved probably toward the end of the year. I mean you see things that say, ‘Wow, this guy has a chance to be really good in the future.’ It’s still about continuing to progress.

“I think [defensive line coach Andre Patterson] has done a great job with him. I think our veteran defensive ends, [Brian Robison] and Everson [Griffen], I think these guys have all kind of taken him under their wing. [Hunter] is a very eager learner and he has the ability.”

Before the Vikings ever got to training camp, Hunter was taking copious notes in Patterson’s office as he watched tape of teammate Everson Griffen, and other players Patterson has coached, such as Elvis Dumervil.

The point Patterson continually hammered on was unlocking Hunter’s speed in his pass rush. Hunter has the physical tools. His 4.57 40-yard dash was the fastest by all defensive linemen prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine. But yet Patterson saw him continually run past quarterbacks on his way to just 1.5 sacks in his final college season at LSU.

Hunter is now second among all NFL rookies with 6.0 sacks, and the Vikings credit his willingness to learn.

“He’s really like a sponge,” Zimmer said. “He wants to take everything in and you don’t want to give him too much because then they start getting overloaded. Each step you take, you keep adding a little bit more. I think that’s where his progress has come from.”

The Vikings’ defensive line room also has a growing rapport, said the group’s elder in Robison. Hunter said they can be found together sometimes at Robison’s house, where fishing is a go-to hobby. Their chemistry may factor into their increasingly disruptive play, with the D-line amassing eight of the Vikings’ nine sacks over the last two wins.

“[Hunter] is making a lot of plays for us,” Robison said. “I think all four of us, when we go into our nickel package, all four of us really do a great job of working well with each other.”

As the season dives deep into winter, Hunter, born in St. Catherine, Jamaica, is forced to adjust to dropping temperatures. He played in the coldest game of his young career last Sunday night, and this upcoming weekend in Green Bay should be even chillier.

He’s embracing that change, just like so many others.

“I’ve never been ice fishing,” Hunter said. “They should take me some day. I’ve never done that before.”

The post ‘Raw this, raw that,’ Danielle Hunter is shedding doubts and making an impact appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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