EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are back in the building, and the group includes Danielle Hunter.
After the three-time Pro Bowler did not participate in the team's voluntary offseason program or mandatory minicamp in June, there was some speculation that the talented edge rusher might not report to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for training camp by Tuesday's deadline.
But Hunter did on a day that included a conditioning test for most veterans before they're scheduled for Wednesday's first practice of 2023 Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes.
There's a progressive ramp-up period for all players that eventually leads to higher intensity days on the practice fields. The first session open to fans is scheduled for Saturday, two days ahead of the first session in full pads.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah participated in press conferences Tuesday and provided updates on the plan for Hunter.
"Danielle has reported. He's going through that process right now," O'Connell said. "It's going to be a day-to-day thing where Danielle and I have had such good dialogue over these last few days and really trying to build a plan for him that allows him to come to work as a Minnesota Viking every single day and continue to work through the contractual side and let that be dealt with by Kwesi and [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Rob [Brzezinski] and the rest of our crew that do a great job with that.
"As always, I try to keep the dialogue and communication with all of our players open at all times, and I think Danielle feels comfortable communicating with me, and we'll work through it day-by-day, but he is here, and it was great to see him a few minutes ago," O'Connell added.
View photos of the second-wave of players arriving for 2023 Vikings Training Camp at the TCO Performance Center.
It is unlikely for Hunter to be a full participant as the second year of camp under O'Connell gets underway, but the coach did say Hunter "looks great."
"He looks like he's Danielle Hunter, as always, but we'll work through a process there, really use this acclimation process to be smart about our entire roster," O'Connell added.
Summing up the dialogue that he's had with Hunter, from the past few days and back to last season, O'Connell said it is clear that "Danielle Hunter loves the Minnesota Vikings. He loves his teammates. He feels really strongly about Mike Smith as his position coach and what we may be trying to do defensively with [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores].
"I'd be naïve to not know that there's another part of that process, which is the business side of things, and I am 100 percent understanding and know that those things tend to play out, and my role in all of this is to make sure from a football standpoint that we are ready to roll and that all of our players, whenever they are capable as they are coming off an injury or whatever the issue may be that keeps them from the field early on, my role is to make sure our football team is at its best when it's time to play the Bucs on September 10th," O'Connell said. "That's what I'm focusing on, but it was great to see him. I think it will mean a lot for his teammates to see him, and we'll just take it a day at a time from there and have a really productive training camp as a football team."
Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who walked into the facility, weighed in and took the podium for a media session to open his 12th NFL training camp, said it is good to have Hunter with the team.
"I think we all kind of know the type of player and the type of teammate he is, so it's obviously great that he's here," Smith said. "I don't really know the details of things, but having him here is obviously a great thing for the Vikings."
Hunter adjusted as Minnesota shifted to a 3-4 base in 2022. He wound up finishing the season with a team-high 10.5 sacks, eclipsing double-digit sacks for the fourth time in his career.
Hunter has started 73 of the 102 regular-season games he's played for the Vikings, totaling 71 sacks, 85 tackles for loss, 112 quarterback hits, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He's taken two of the four fumble recoveries for touchdowns and recorded a safety in 2016.
His absence also was felt in 2020 when a neck injury suffered in a practice before the padded sessions began knocked him out of his sixth pro season. He returned to action in 2021 and opened the first seven games of the season strongly before suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Hunter rehabbed that and started all 17 games in 2022.
Adofo-Mensah was asked if Hunter's contract situation needs to be resolved before he fully participated.
"There's a lot of things we're trying to work through with Danielle, obviously," Adofo-Mensah said. "We haven't seen him since last season, so that, amongst many other issues that we're trying to work through with his representatives. Those conversations are ongoing, so I don't want to give you an answer and tell you yes or no, but those conversations are ongoing.
"I'm really excited to see him," Adofo-Mensah. "It's great to see a great player like that, a great Viking."
O'Connell said he is stressing to the entire team the importance of taking a day-to-day approach through training camp.
"The key to me is the dialogue between myself as the head coach and the player and making sure they know exactly my mindset and the big picture," O'Connell said. "And what that looks like that can change, it can evolve, based upon, what Danielle, and I discuss as the best thing for him. And the starting point was, he showed up today, and he's around his teammates, and he's in our building. That's day one.
"And we'll kind of move forward from here, with a positive mindset that hopefully Danielle Hunter is playing every single game for us this year, and having a major impact, like he's done his whole career here," O'Connell added. "So, I think, just keeping the focus on the day-to-day, and understanding all though training camp is a finite amount of time to prepare for our season, we also want to make sure Danielle feels 100-percent comfortable and is excited about that, as well."