One of the biggest surprise for the Minnesota Vikings during the 2015 season had to have been the production third-round pick Danielle Hunter was able to have. It was known that he was a physical specimen with abnormal athletic abilities for someone his size, measuring in at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds and running a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Oddly enough, though, his measurements and athletic abilities did not produce the numbers one would have expected in college. He had a lot of fundamental things that needed to be corrected, but the potential was definitely there. That’s why the Vikings felt safe taking him when they did.
There was no immediate need for a new defensive end, so they felt they could take a year or two to properly groom him. He participated in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, but was then listed as inactive during the two following weeks.
Hunter would see the field occasionally from Week 4 and on for the remainder of the season. He recorded his first half a sack in their Week 6 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs and then recorded his first solo sack in their Week 8 victory over the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings coaching staff saw Hunter start to develop faster than they originally expected, so his role in the defense continued to expand as the season went on. A big part of that development was because of how hard of a worker Hunter is on the field and how hard he studies off the field.
“He’s a heavy studier in the classroom,” said Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson. “You can’t outwork him out here on the field, so he has a desire to try and be as good as he can be and all I want him to do is keep striving for that and let it play out the way it’s going to play out.”
Hunter really seemed hit his stride over the final five games of the regular season when he recorded 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks. A big reason for that is because the Vikings coaching staff started to have him rush the passer out of a two-point stance (standing up) from time to time, instead of always having him work out of a three-point stance (one hand in the ground).
A three-point stance is typically what coaches want their players working out of because it causes them to stay low and explode into the offensive lineman (think of the 40-yard dash).
“Most guys when they stand up, this is where Danielle was unique, they’re high and it’s a little bit of a delay in their get off,” Patterson explained. “He was very unique to where his get-off last year was faster from a stand-up and lower from a stand-up than it was from his three-point.
“The thing that we noticed, one week in the scout team, was he was standing up and his get-offs were faster and lower from the two-point than the three-point. So we just said, ‘Hey, pass rushing situations let him go ahead and stand up.’”
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Patterson continued to work with Hunter coming out of the three-point stance throughout his rookie season, despite him being more comfortable in the two-point stance. That’s because he knew it was going to be more beneficial for him to work with his hand in the ground long term.
That added work with him seems to be paying dividends already, as Hunter has been working out of the three-point stance, almost exclusively, throughout organized team activities, minicamp and training camp. Patterson wanted to make sure that was a point of emphasis for Hunter this offseason and he could tell the difference almost instantly.
“So the thing that happened is once I saw on film, if you were out there at the beginning of OTAs he was still standing up, but once I saw on film that his get off was faster and lower out of his three-point than standing up, I called him in and said, ‘Let’s watch it,’” Patterson said. “We watched it and I said, ‘You see the same thing I see?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, coach.’ So he’s been in his three-point ever since.”
Hunter gave all of the credit to Patterson for his improvement in his fundamentals.
“I just listened to him and staying low,” Hunter said. “Sometimes you come out from under the shoot, so that’s one thing that helps us a lot with staying low.”
As previously mentioned, Hunter was an athletic freak when he entered into the NFL. Things do not appear to be changing as he heads into his second year. If anything, the combination of his size, strength and speed just continues to get more impressive.
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He spent a lot of time down in Houston working out with Adrian Peterson this offseason and it caused him to add five pounds of muscle and the difference in his body is easily noticeable. He looks as though he may have added 15 pounds to his frame, but that’s not the case because all the weight he added was pure muscle, no fat.
That also caused his play to be faster and more explosive out on the field.
“He’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten thicker, and the thing about him is, I think he’s only three percent body fat,” Patterson said. “So you look at his arms and they look like they’re going to explode. He did a good job training at Adrian’s place, him and Tom Johnson did a great job of training and tightening up his body. So he looks more explosive out here, he looks quicker out here, when he punches guys now he moves guys. He understood that was the element he had to bring to his game.
“Actual body weight, he only put on another five pounds, but when you look at him he looks bigger, so that’s the reason his speed and his explosive movements have gotten faster. Because he has gotten more muscle and worked real hard on his quick twitch.”
Hunter was working with Peterson since the offseason started. He lives down in Houston, so whenever the All-Pro running back would be ready to start working out he would call up his teammate and have him head over. They would do things like back-peddling up hills, and things of that nature. Workouts that help build a player’s endurance and strength.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is a truly rigorous workout. Peterson has had teammates join him in the past and they would only last a couple days, but Hunter did his best to stick with it.
“It’s inhuman,” Hunter said of Peterson’s workout. “There’s stuff that he does, he’s been doing it for a long time, and for us to just try and do what he’s doing, it’s not going to be possible. It takes time to be able to do what he does.”
There are a lot of high expectations for Hunter heading into his second season, and it appears the coaches are going to give him plenty of opportunities to live up to them. He has primarily been working with the second-team defense in training camp, but has been getting snaps with the first team in passing situations.
The coaches put Hunter at left defensive end and then slide Brian Robison inside to defensive tackle. That just gives the defensive line more pass-rushing specialists and causes the offensive line more problems because they can only double-team so many players. One or two players will always have a one-on-one matchup, and that will likely be the case with Hunter more times than not, and the coaches are hoping he can take advantage of that.
Patterson knows that Hunter has the potential to be a great player in the NFL, but it all depends on how much work he continues to put in moving forward. He has all the physical gifts one needs to succeed at this level, he just needs to keep working hard on and off the field. If he continues to do that, the sky’s the limit.
“I want him to be Danielle Hunter and keep working every day to be the best he can be,” Patterson began, “and then at the end we can all sit back and say, ‘Hey, this is what he became.’”