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Danielle Hunter Hits Double-Digit Sacks in Year 2, More to Come

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –When rookies walk into defensive line Coach Andre Patterson's office for a first meeting, he usually hands them a pad of paper and a pencil.

Danielle Hunter already had both.

"He said, 'OK, Coach, I'm here,' " Patterson recalled, gesturing to an empty chair near his desk. "The first day he walked in here, and we sat there and just watched every single rush he had at LSU. And he wrote down every single word I said. So it started the first meeting, and I knew."

What Patterson knew is that the 6-foot-5 athlete in his office would develop into something special. What he didn't know was how quickly it would happen.

On Sunday, a nine-point lead gave the Vikings some breathing room leading up to the Jaguars final possession of the day. Just before Hunter took the field, Patterson called him over.

"You go out there, and you get a sack," he told the lineman.

Hunter looked his coach in the eyes and told him he would.

He delivered.

With 58 seconds left on the clock, Blake Bortles dropped back on second-and-10. Before he could find a target, Hunter came tearing around the outside and laid him on his back.

"[Coach Patterson] stays on me throughout the game," Hunter said. "I said, 'All right, Coach, I'll try to get one for you. That was going through my mind, and at the end of the game, I did what he told me to do – I went to get one for him."

After the play, Hunter stood up and pointed at Patterson on the sideline.

I got you, Coach.

"I always point at him," Hunter said with a smile. "Always."

With the takedown, Hunter joined the double-digit sack club at 10.5. As a rookie, he notched 6.0. And the year before that, as a senior at LSU? Hunter had just one sack.

"To go from college, where he was a better athlete than most of the people he played against, to come do it at the highest level and two years later be a double-digit sack guy, that's a tremendous accomplishment by him," Patterson said. "And it took a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication on his part to get it done."

Hunter ranks second among all defensive ends from the 2015 draft class in total sacks (16.5), just behind first-round pick Vic Beasley (17.5) and second-round pick Preston Smith (12).

Hunter, who primarily plays a rotational role with starting defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, doesn't pay too much attention to the numbers. He simply takes it one day at a time, focusing on getting better to bolster the one stat that's most important in his mind: wins or losses as a team.

"There were only a few people that believed in me, and the people that believed in me are here in this facility right now," Hunter said. "If it wasn't for my coaches and my teammates coaching me up and helping me out, I wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't have the number of sacks that I have right now.

"It's all about coming in here and just learning and continuing to grow as a player," Hunter added. "Just playing for the team."

Hunter, whom the Vikings drafted in the third round of the 2015 Draft, was just 20 years old when he signed his first NFL contract. He had been a standout throughout high school and contributor in three seasons at LSU, and Patterson said it's sometimes difficult to work with first-year players on making adjustments to the game that they've long been lauded for.

" 'Why should I change what's helped me get here?' That's what most guys say," Patterson said. "Danielle didn't do that.

"He's not just an athlete out there playing football. He wants to be good, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get there," Patterson added. "He was willing to come here and just be clay, and let me [help mold] him."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer echoed Patterson's assessment of Hunter, saying the young defensive end "really is coachable" and is hard at work each and every day to absorb as much as he can and improve however possible.

If you ask Hunter, he'll tell you he's always been a student of the game.

"That's just how I've been my whole life," Hunter said. "Entering the draft, there weren't many people that believed in me. I didn't necessarily go out there and try to prove them wrong, but I just shut all the noise out and focused in."

In addition to learning under Patterson, Hunter paid close attention to his veteran teammates, gleaning whatever he could from Robison and Griffen.

"As soon as I came in, I started taking notes," Hunter said. " 'B-Rob' has been here for a million years, so I look at him and look at ways to stay healthy and techniques to help me out with beating a tackle. Griff, he's just an energy guy, and that's one thing I learned from him. He never gives up on a play."

Added Hunter: "That's two traits that I've combined to see how I'm going to be successful in the future."

The studying has paid off.

Zimmer said he's seen significant development from Hunter in just a year. According to Zimmer, Hunter had a tendency to perform "robotically" as a result of over-thinking and trying to do too much at the line.

"You have to have a starting point," Zimmer said. "For him, it's getting off the ball and staying low. Once that happens, then you can just kind of let his athletic ability take over."

Athletic ability is something Hunter has never been short of.

Some accused the Vikings of drafting Hunter too early, saying he was a reach at 88th and too raw for the big leagues. But no one could deny the physical talent.

"I think the whole world saw his length, his speed, his athleticism and his strength – everybody saw that," Patterson said. "But I got to know the young man.

"When I got a chance to meet him and see how smart he was, to see how driven he is, I was like, 'This guy's going to get it,' " Patterson continued. "I got a chance to visit with him twice, and when I walked away, I said, 'OK, I want that guy.' "

Patterson got his wish on draft night, and Zimmer is glad that he did.

"I think Andre's had a lot to do with it," Zimmer said of Hunter's growth in the past two years. "But he's got an unlimited potential to work with."

It's the promise, the yet-untapped potential, that excites Patterson about his second-year student.

"He knows that he's still not there yet. We still haven't seen the best of him," Patterson said. "He's still got way more growth to happen, and he's not going to be satisfied. He's going to keep on grinding. And I think that's the thing that makes him special."

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