It's a thankless position. Few fans even know his name. But safety Will
Hunter doesn't mind.
Admittedly, some of the Vikings cheerleaders are more recognizable to season-ticket holders than Hunter, a player who rarely if ever plays on defense, but participates in practically all special teams units that don't involve field goals.
After originally being signed as a rookie free agent out of Syracuse by the New York Jets in 2003, Hunter joined the Vikings in November of the 2005 season. He spent the remainder of the year on the practice squad. He was invited back this season, with no strings attached.
If Hunter was going to be a Minnesota Viking, he knew what his role would be way back in August during training camp.
"Coming into the year, I expected to be a special teams guy," he said. "That was my whole goal - to come in and be a special teams guy. When I first got activated this year, I went out there and tried to find my niche."
His role is anonymous to outsiders, but appreciated by teammates. If the Vikings are kicking off, punting, receiving a kick or receiving a punt, number 25 is on the field.
He has seven tackles so far this season on special teams.
"Right now, I'm just trying to make plays for the team," he said. "By doing my job and making plays - not going outside my job - I have gotten better. I'm doing my job, but I wouldn't say I'm completely satisfied with the way the season has gone because I could've done better. If I made a few more tackles the outcome of the games might have been different."
Listen to the Vikings sports radio postgame shows on Sunday afternoons. If the Vikings lose a game, you won't hear commentators or callers complaining about Hunter; most don't know he's out there. But he holds himself accountable, which is why he might still be on the roster.
It is that self-monitored culpability that players possess on special teams, Hunter says. When the Vikings special teams take the field they want to be out there; it isn't a letdown because most aren't playing every down. It sounds strange, but that's not always the case in the NFL.
"I would say the change from this year to last year is you have a lot of guys on special teams who actually want to be on special teams," Hunter said. "They knew that their role coming in was to be on special teams. That's the biggest difference this year. When you have a bunch of guys who want to be on special teams, it makes you better."
Special teams coach Rusty Tillman concurs. "You have to want to do it,"
Tillman said. "That's the kind of attitude you have to have to play special teams."
Hunter is buried deep on the defensive secondary depth chart. In fact, he hardly even takes that into consideration. Yet, even though he covets his special teams role, he hopes to parlay that into a full-time role on defense someday.
"That's the goal of every player that plays in the NFL - to be on the field all the time," he said. "Obviously you want to start at some point in your career. But right now I'm just taking it in stride. I can't look forward to next year. Who knows if I'll be back here or not? If I'm here, I'm going to do the best I can to help the team."
Hs biggest role might come this weekend, with safety Corey Chavous hobbling on a sprained ankle. Head coach Mike Tice and Chavous both say there is little question the starter will play; the question is how much.
"I don't have any doubt that he'll play," Tice said about Chavous earlier this week. "But at what level and how long he'll be able to play - will he knick it like Antoine (Winfield) did a couple of plays last year (against Green Bay in last year's playoff game), let it settle down and go back in. ... I think Corey is going to have the same type of situation."
Chavous played two years ago with a sprained MCL and didn't miss a practice, Tice said.
But Chavous injury opens the possibility of Hunter contributing more on defense in Baltimore than he has in his career, but Hunter doesn't seem concerned.
"I've pretty been comfortable since last year when I got here. I played with Ted back when he was with the Jets. I was kind of familiar with it so all I had to do was brush up on it," Hunter said.
"I'm looking forward to playing special teams, and I'm hoping everything is well with Corey so he could go out and play, but if he can't I think I'm mentally tough enough to go out there and play."
If Chavous can't play and the Vikings need to delve one spot deeper on their depth chart, cornerback Brian Williams is the emergency safety, but Hunter is the next line of defense who has parlayed his special teams prowess into a potential defensive opportunity this weekend.
Good Will Hunter
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