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Danielle Hunter's Surge Started by Being a Sponge

Of all the descriptors that have been used for Danielle Hunter — a chiseled, 6-foot-5, 252-pounder who has another four months before turning 23 — "sponge-like" isn't the most common.

But a look beyond impressive physique and athleticism reveals the third-year pro's receptive approach to soak up knowledge from coaches and teammates.

When Hunter arrived in Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson's office after being selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, he brought a notepad.

Tips on techniques have stacked up like piles of opposing quarterbacks.

Hunter said this spring that he's "up to six or seven" notebooks.

He's also up to 18.5 sacks after just two seasons, fueled by a whopping 12 last season that included a game-changing safety of Cam Newton at Carolina in Week 3. Hunter also opened his second season by returning fumble 24 yards for a touchdown at Tennessee in Week 1.

He's continued his commitment to find ways to improve his game.

"The thing that's improved the most is understanding the game and the plays, snaps in my head now," Hunter said. "We practice our technique every day and then just getting in the groove of things. You have the right mindset of knowing when to get in the groove of things."

Hunter, Everson Griffen (8.0 sacks) and Brian Robison (7.5 sacks) gave the Vikings the NFL's only trio of defensive ends with 7.5 or more. In addition to keeping the backfield barrage going in a game, the closeness of the three players has enabled Hunter to learn from Griffen, who has 48 career sacks, and Robison, who has 56.

"B-Rob, he taught me a lot of stuff to do with my hands and how to take care of my body. If it's about taking care of my body, I go to B-Rob," Hunter said. "If it's about how to play or work off a move, I go to Everson.

"They took me under their wings as soon as I came in here," Hunter added. "I was willing to just sit down and listen."

Griffen, who has been selected to two straight Pro Bowls and appeared in NFL.com's "Top 100 Players" series for the first time, recently told Vikings.com that he's still sharpening* *his own mental approach to prepare for his eighth pro season.

The 6-3, 273-pound Griffen said he's been impressed by multiple things about Hunter.

"Man, if I were that coachable when I was young … I still got an opportunity, but if I was that coachable at 23 years old, I wish I was like that at 23," said Griffen, who became a starter in 2014 at age 26. "Everybody has their own journey and own plan, and I feel like my plan is right where it needs to be.

"For Danielle, he just needs to keep on doing what he's doing, and we'll compete," Griffen added. "He's going to push me, and I'm going to push him, just like everyone does on the D-line. He's a physical freak … he has long arms, he can bend. He can be a great player. He just has to do it every single year, and that takes a lot of mental focus."

Hunter credited Patterson and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards for helping the defensive linemen reach the right mindset and right position to make plays. After that, it's the " 'want to' we have in each one of us" to succeed and make the unit better.

Hunter recently joined teammates Linval Joseph and Kyle Rudolph on a #VikingHeritage trip to Iceland, capitalizing on a brief break between the Vikings offseason program and training camp, which opens in Mankato in less than a month.

Joseph, 28, the mammoth 329-pound defensive tackle, refers to Hunter as his "little brother."

"He's a good guy," Joseph said. "He's young, he's humble, he wants to be great. And he's not scared of coaching, so that's a good thing."

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