Danielle Hunter has been making a lot of noise on the field and coming out of his shell off the field, according to coaches and teammates.
Hunter’s sack for a safety in the first quarter of the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 3 win over the Carolina Panthers started a streak of 22 unanswered points for the team. It was his third sack in as many games, putting him in the top 10 in the NFL for sacks heading into Week 4.
Off the field, Hunter has been making a bit more noise, as well.
“He’s starting to come out of his shell a little bit. When he would get a sack last year he would clap once and go back to the huddle,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Now he’s flexing and things like that so he’s talking more. I think he feels more confident in everything that he’s doing.”
Hunter admitted he was quiet off the field last year, and that’s how his roadie roommate, Anthony Barr, likes it with the rookies.
“When he first got here you couldn’t get a word out of the guy. Actually, I prefer that with most rookies. I would rather them be quite than talk too much,” Barr said of Hunter. “I can appreciate where he’s coming from with that. Just rooming with him, he’s a foodie and I’m a foodie, too. We love to go eat. We’re always on the road. Like last week we found a little soul food place in Charlotte and went for food there with Linval (Joseph) and Everson (Griffen) and a couple other guys. He’s been great. Obviously he’s produced on the field and I think it helps being comfortable in the locker room; you can go out and be comfortable on the field.”
In Week 1, Hunter had a sack and a returned a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown. He has had a sack in each of his three games in his second season.
The more playing time Hunter has earned, the more he has produced. Likewise, the more he is around his teammates, the more talkative he has become – at least around certain people.
“I was quiet at first. I was a rookie, but now the guys that I hang around, I talk more around them, but (around) everybody else I’m still kind of a quiet dude. I notice a lot of things. I’m quiet. I’m always thinking about stuff,” Hunter said.
“I’m myself, but when I’m around people that I don’t really hang around with all the time, I’m quiet.”
Barr can appreciate that. Zimmer said the Vikings’ outside linebacker has also become more vocal the longer he is with the team and in the NFL.
For Barr, the process might have been a little quicker.
“I felt that way pretty quickly when I got here because I felt like my personality blended in with a lot of the guys. When I first got here I was pretty quiet and trying to figure out my way and do my job and kind of keeping my head down,” Barr said. “But the more you get around these guys and the more you talk to them and the coaches, you become close. You can just be yourself and just not have to be so reserved. You can open up a little bit. Not only myself, but a lot of the guys have such great relationships that we can be ourselves. This is kind of like home for us.”
Their friendships go beyond the football field and extend outside the locker room.
Of course, there are gatherings at their homes for Thursday night and Monday night football viewing parties, but the games go beyond football.
Last year, Mario Kart was the video game of choice for teammates to compete against each other. This year, it’s a game called Rocket League.
“It’s a video game – it’s like race cars and soccer,” Barr explained. “It’s stupid, but it’s awesome.”
For Barr, there are plenty of defensive teammates to hang with, and the activity doesn’t seem to matter that much – whether it’s watching football, playing video games, grabbing food together or even getting I.V.s at the same time.
“I feel like each guy brings something different to the table,” Barr said. “It’s fun. It’s like a melting pot. You feel like you want some chicken one day, you go over here. If you want pizza, you go over here. It’s kind of like that.”
With all his years of coaching in the NFL, Zimmer has seen that bonding process before. And he continues to see it every year with new, young talent brought to the team.
“It’s funny because I see guys like Shamar Stephen, who would never say a word and now he’s talking to the other guys and saying stuff, and Hunter is kind of like that,” Zimmer said. “Barr, he’s changed a lot in his demeanor. A year ago he wouldn’t even say diddly and now he’s talking a lot. It’s actually kind of fun to see some of these young guys that start to mature a little bit.”
Said Barr: “It’s a very tight-knit group and we all have kind of the same mentality, where we all want to be great individually but more so as a group.”