EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It's safe to say Danielle Hunter is physically gifted, even sculpted, but Vikings coaches believe his "outstanding measurables" can be further molded.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson will become potters in bringing forth the potential they see in the third-round pick who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times at the NFL Combine. Hunter also impressed coaches and scouts in his allotted interview session with the Vikings.
"He's got outstanding measurables," Zimmer said. "He's got very heavy hands. He's very athletic and the fact that, we feel like we can take guys like that and teach them really what we're trying to do to improve them.
"Andre Patterson does a great job of teaching these guys what we're trying to get accomplished and he always has," Zimmer continued. "And I'm not saying this guy is Everson (Griffen), but you look back on Everson Griffen, you know, is a great athlete that started buying into what we're trying to teach and really took a big jump last year and we're hoping that he (Hunter) will too."
When Hunter arrived at Winter Park last week for Vikings rookie minicamp, he brought a modeling clay attitude to go along with his chiseled 6-foot-5, 252-pound frame. Among things coaches want to teach is how he can maximize the use of his arms that measured 35 inches long.
"It's a great opportunity, a blessing and something I've been dreaming of since I was a little kid, to make it into the NFL," Hunter said. "It's a dream come true and a blessing to finally be able to come back out and play football. I've got to come out here, listen to Coach P and what he tells me to do and grind at it."
Hunter, who was born in Jamaica and raised in Texas, opted to leave LSU with a year of eligibility remaining. He said he was training in Arizona and developed a relationship with Patterson when the coach was in the area for Arizona State's Pro Day this spring.
"Ever since then, we've been cool," Hunter said. "(Vikings coaches are) all comfortable. I can talk to them. They are great people and people I can be around. I can trust them a lot and feel comfortable with them."
Patterson said in an interview last week with Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen on the 9 to Noon show on KFAN that he's been studying Hunter's film every day since Minnesota tabbed him, "because I'm ready to get my hands on that young man because he's blessed with so much God-given talent."
"We're going to do the best job we can to get this guy's game to continue to progress because he's got a chance to be a special player if we get him to continue to grow," Patterson said. "He's got the skill set that you look for every year for a defensive end as a first-round pick, but the young man doesn't even turn 21 until October, so he's still a baby. There's no doubt in my mind that if he would have went back to LSU next year that he would have been a first-round pick next year."
Hunter said he declared early because he preferred an option that could lead to several seasons in the same system instead of going through a change of defensive coaches in his senior season. He said he's happy to continue wearing Purple and Gold.
"I've been wearing purple since junior high," Hunter said. "I've been something with teeth or horns, Panthers, Mavericks, (Tigers), Vikings. It's amazing. I just want to keep wearing Purple for the rest of my life."
Hunter, who was drawn into football when he ran after — and caught — another child who was on skates (the child's son was a coach), said he wants to capitalize on his gifts.
"A lot of people say I have amazing physique, but I just thank God for that," Hunter said. "I go in the weight room and work hard every day, study film, study the playbook. I'm a great character guy, I don't see myself doing anything bad, just stuff like that."
Hunter's physical attributes were highlighted by Lance Zierlein in Hunter's NFL.com combine bio page.
"If he walked into your living room, your eyes would pop out of your head," an unnamed former LSU coach told Zierlein. "He looks that good on the hoof. He's going to blow up the combine, and then ace all of the interviews and NFL teams are going to fall in love with him. He still needs someone to unlock all that talent, though."
That's where Patterson's film study and lessons he can offer, combined with Hunter's coachable attitude, will best serve the Vikings to build on Hunters' team-leading 13.0 tackles for loss in 2014 that ranked 10th in the SEC.
"I think the biggest thing that jumps out at you is he plays hard and plays at the ball. He's got great speed and acceleration," Patterson told Allen. "He's aggressive, he's quick, he's fluid, but he just has to learn how to play the game. Every rookie that comes in here is in the same boat he's in because the NFL game is so much different than the college game, so that part of it isn't different than any rookie of the 31 other teams, but the thing is for him is to get him to understand the gifts he has and how to use those to the best of his advantage."