Vikings DE Danielle Hunter’s goals: starting lineup, Pro Bowl

The Vikings had five defensive players <a href="">Danielle Hunter Jersey</a> in the Pro Bowl last month, and another sitting in the stands.

When nose tackle Linval Joseph was named Jan. 13 as a replacement for the Jan. 29 game in Orlando, Fla., one of the first things he did was invite teammate Danielle Hunter to be one of his guests.

So Hunter, a second-year defensive end who <a href="">Danielle Hunter Womens Jersey</a> led the Vikings in 2016 with 12 1/2 sacks, watched with members of Joseph’s family. He came away determined to play in the game next year.

“(Joseph) felt like I should have been there, and he wanted me to be a part of it,” Hunter said. “So I said, ‘All right.’ Just being there made me more hungry to play in the Pro Bowl.”

Joseph, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Hunter, who is <a href="">Danielle Hunter Kids Jersey</a> from Jamaica, both have Caribbean backgrounds and are close. Other players from Minnesota’s well-regarded defense who played in the Pro Bowl were defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr, and defensive backs Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. The other Viking in the game was kick returner Cordarelle Patterson.

“I’m working for the Pro Bowl every year,” Hunter said.

The quest for the next one began in earnest not long after Minnesota’s disappointing 8-8 season ended Jan. 1. Hunter has been working out in Houston, his hometown, under the direction of notable trainer James Cooper at O Athletik, a Houston club co-owned <a href=""> by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, also trained by Cooper, wasn’t on hand earlier this week for a workout involving several athletes, but Hunter was. So was former Vikings tight end MyCole Pruitt, now with the Chicago Bears.

“I’m trying to improve in every aspect,” Hunter said at the club. “I can get faster, bigger, stronger, stuff like that.”

A third-round draft pick out of LSU in 2015, Hunter had six sacks as a rookie. He more than doubled that in 2016, having the most sacks by a Minnesota player since Jared Allen’s 22 in 2011. And he did it despite not starting a single game.

Hunter, 22, would like that to change. Defensive end Brian Robison, who turns 34 in April and has been a starter since 2011, said last month Hunter is ready to start, although Robison said he will do what he can to keep his spot in the lineup.

“(Robison) said he’s not going to make it easy. But that’s definitely something that I’m competing for, the starting job,” Hunter said. “(Defensive line coach Andre Patterson), tells me it’s all about competition, and I’m just going to go out there and compete and see what happens.”

Cooper is determined to make sure the 6-foot-6 Hunter is <a href=""> even better next season. He said the plan before Hunter reports for offseason workouts in April is for him to gain four pounds of muscle, getting him up to 260.

“He has a high motor, big engine,” Cooper said. “Adding a little more body weight won’t affect his speed. He’s going to get faster and stronger. He’s one of those guys that has a mind-set of wanting to get better.”

Cooper said he’s also working with Hunter to add some moves to his game.

“We’re going to learn two extra moves, and they’re secrets,” Cooper said. “In the NFL, the job of the offensive coordinator is to have plays designed (to stop) him with the success he’s had, so you have to evolve and have better moves other than being just an <a href=""> athlete and having one or two combinations. So tactically he’s going to get a lot better. He had a great season, but you just don’t want to sit here and rest on that.”

Hunter certainly isn’t doing that. He’s working out three days a week, and will increase that to four days a week later this month.

Hunter is using BOSU balls, bands and bungees to focus on small muscle groups as well as running in a pool. Large muscle groups will be addressed later with weightlifting.

During a workout earlier this week, Pruitt was nearby. Pruitt, a fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2015, was waived in November and signed to the practice squad before the Bears added him to their 53-man roster in December.

“It was tough (leaving the Vikings), but you know it’s what had to be done at the moment,” Pruitt said.

The Bears play Minnesota twice each season, and Pruitt could end up blocking Hunter. He said Hunter is looking good, but he did joke about perhaps slowing down the pass rusher and the Vikings.

“I’ll try to mess them up,” Pruitt said with a laugh. “Keep them off the quarterback.”