Danielle Hunter was drafted for his athleticism, but, despite a frame that would indicate pure pass rusher, he didn’t get much of a chance to display that at LSU. In fact, he rarely worked on it.
The Minnesota Vikings’ third-round draft choice has speed and long arms, two traits often found in adept NFL pass rushers, but that’s the part of his game that needs the most work and he knows it, saying the schemes and techniques the Vikings are teaching him in his first four months in Minnesota are “completely different.”
“The stuff we learned at LSU is mostly run stuff. Here, it’s a combination of both,” he said. “I’m getting better at both of them. I’m pretty good in run, but the pass, it takes time and that’s something I’m working for.”
It’s a work in progress, to say the least, but he’s getting plenty of time to hone those skills.
Hunter played 62 snaps in the Hall of Fame game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and 53 snaps in Saturday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – both of them the most of any Vikings defender.
“He’s doing a good job in the running game. You get in the passing game a little bit, he’s had some good rushes and he has some not-so-good rushes,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s like a lot of young guys that I’ve had that have some athletic ability that relied a lot on their athletic ability. There’s still some things that we’re trying to correct. I did see some improvement in some of the rushes last week, but he’s still a ways to go as far as being consistent with that and understanding.”
Hunter echoed that assessment, admitting he is still learning plenty about rushing the passer. Labeled a “workout warrior” at LSU, he is willing to put in the work.
“It takes all practice. Coach (Andre Patterson) says, ‘It’s not going to come overnight.’ Just keep repetition and muscle memory, just keep doing what he tells me to do and I’ll get there,” Hunter said.
“He says that my rush angles have gotten way better. It’s all about your rush angles. You can’t just run up the field and all that. But you can tell from the first game that I just ran up the field and the second game I didn’t run up the field at all. I just kept my angles straight. It’s just working on my rush angles and keeping my eyes on my dude.”
Zimmer likes the fact that Hunter is willing to work. And he sees him sticking with the initial teachings instead of getting frustrated and wanting to try out a new technique.
“A lot of times, young guys, they come and if they don’t have success right away they try something else, and then they try something else, and then they try something else. Consequently, they don’t get good at one,” Zimmer said. “You get good at one thing and then you can progress to the next things. These are just things that young guys – not just him, but all young guys – have to learn. It’s not how much you know, it’s how much you can do.”
At LSU, Hunter was known to pay particular attention to current Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. In Minnesota, he is listening to Brian Robison and paying particular attention to Everson Griffen’s pass-rushing moves and work ethic.
While he might be raw in the techniques of pass rushing, Hunter has the assets that coaches love. He has the speed and the long arms that can help him shed blockers. His 83½-inch wingspan was third-longest among defensive linemen and linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine.
His maturation into a complete defensive end could take time, but Hunter is patient knowing much of what he’s learning is new.
“When I was at LSU, I didn’t really do all that pass-rushing stuff. We mainly did run-blocking stuff – run block, run shed,” he said. “It was mainly a strong run defense so we didn’t do that much pass rushing. We had Sam blitzes, Will blitzes, off-the-edge blitzes.
“It should be coming. I’m just taking my time, listening to what they tell me to do.”