EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings defense has suffered a devastating blow, as Minnesota will be without perhaps its best player going forward.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer announced Monday that defensive end Danielle Hunter tore a pectoral muscle and will miss the remainder of the 2021 season as he is headed for Injured Reserve.
Hunter, a two-time Pro Bowler, played just 27 snaps in Week 8 against the Cowboys and was injured in the second quarter.
"I don't think you replace him," Zimmer said of Hunter. "He's one-of-a-kind."
A torn pec is what linebacker Anthony Barr suffered in Week 2 of the 2020 season. Barr missed the final 14 games of that season.
The injury is especially crushing for Hunter, who turned 27 years old last week. He missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury.
Zimmer, plus teammates Everson Griffen and Dalvin Cook, said they felt terrible for one of the locker room's most popular players.
"I can't imagine. I really can't imagine what he's going through," Griffen said. "He rehabbed his neck to get back strong and then he comes back and something like this happens to him.
"It can be very frustrating, and I know that he's frustrated right now," Griffen added. "But he's got to just pick his head up and fight back just like he did last year. It's devastating for our football team, losing one of our star players. It really hurts."
Cook said: "Yeah, that's my brother, man. I hate to see him go down like that. Get well soon D, we love you. Um, you know, that's tough for us."
Zimmer added: "It's unfortunate that we're going to miss the next half of the season with him, and all of last year. So, he's a great kid and he'll do a good job in his rehab and he'll be ready to go."
Hunter leads the Vikings with 6.0 sacks through seven games this season. He has 60.5 career sacks since he was a third-round pick in 2015 out of LSU.
Hunter's presence will be missed as the Vikings try to navigate life without him for the second straight season.
The loss of Hunter means D.J. Wonnum will likely take over the starting defensive end spot opposite Griffen, who has 5.0 sacks this season but is also 33 years old. The Vikings have talked in recent weeks about trying to manage his workload.
"I feel good. Honestly, I really feel good. I woke up this morning and I felt good," said Griffen, who played 60 snaps against Dallas. "I had acupuncture at 8 a.m. and I have a massage at 1:30. Every day [is about] recovery. Recovery grind.
"It doesn't matter about your age. I take care of my body very well," Griffen added. "Whatever they want me to do, have me to do, I go out there and do it for my team."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Wonnum began the season as the starter opposite Hunter but was replaced by Griffen beginning in Week 5. He has 1.0 sack this season.
Minnesota also has rookie Patrick Jones II on the roster. The third-round pick hasn't played this season and injured his knee last week during practice. Minnesota elevated Kenny Willekes, a 2020 seventh-rounder, from its practice squad. Willekes made his NFL debut with 16 snaps against Dallas. He missed all of last season with an injury.
"[Hunter is] a big-time player for us, and that situation is hard," Griffen said. "But in this game, that's why you got a football team, and we've got to go out there and we've got to get the young guys going and get them ready to play. But losing Danielle is a big blow.
"They're going to be big. We need them to play well and we need them to go out there and execute their assignments," Griffen later added of Jones and Willekes. "When your number is called, your number is called. Losing Danielle, it hurts. Hopefully we can get this thing back going and start winning some games around here."
Zimmer added: "Yeah, Willekes played a little bit last night. He's been coming on. Pat's got some ability and he's been working real hard. So they'll get some opportunities now."
The Vikings traded defensive end Stephen Weatherly to Denver over the bye weekend. Janarius Robinson, a rookie fourth-round pick, is out for the year after being put on Injured Reserve on Aug. 23.
The NFL's trade deadline is 3 p.m. (CT) Tuesday.