EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Four propellers hummed and scattered fallen leaves.
Danielle Hunter's drone quickly went skyward. Up, up and up some more, becoming smaller to the eyes and less audible.
When Hunter first got the remote-controlled flying device, he took things slowly. Within a couple of weeks, his hands gained comfort with the joystick and he maximized the drone's maneuverability, capturing stunning images from above.
Hunter has guided it over the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, and recently displayed his prowess for an episode of Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron a day after he turned 21.
Two days after capturing aerial shots at a park near Winter Park, Hunter wrapped up Bears QB Jay Cutler for his first career sack, the only Cutler took on the day. Hunter was credited with four QB pressures on 22 snaps.
In the past three games, Hunter has been credited with nine QB pressures in 55 defensive snaps (a rate of 16.4 percent without separating run plays from the snap count). The Vikings are yielding results from the plan they set out for the NFL's youngest player.
"He's done a good job. We've added more to his plate as we've progressed, as he's gotten more comfortable schematically and technique and fundamentals of the things that we're asking him to do," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said. "I think Coach [Andre] Patterson has done an excellent job of bringing him along, being able to tell what he can handle, what he can't handle. And he's just gotten better each week. As we keep progressing through the season, I think he'll continue to get better, understand the rush angles, understand those things that are a lot different than probably what he was accustomed to before and understand what we're trying to do schematically to use his skillset."
Hunter has come quite a way since he opted to leave LSU with a year of eligibility remaining. The Vikings saw in him a player with outstanding athleticism and a learner's attitude.
Check and check.
"You never want to be too comfortable. I try to get better every game," Hunter said. "From college, Coach 'Dre has taught me a lot since college, about my rush angles, my hands and my speed. If you look at my college film and look at me know, I'm a completely different player than I was back in college and think I have improved a lot."
Hunter also contributed significantly in Chicago on special teams. He applied what Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer called "great pressure" to Pat O'Donnell before walling off the Bears punter during Marcus Sherels' 65-yard touchdown return.
Hunter nearly got the final punt of the game that Sherels returned 12 yards and begin the Vikings game-winning drive with momentum.
"He's the big pass rusher by trait, and if I'm a wing on the punt team, I wouldn't want to block him," Priefer said. "He did a really nice job against Chicago. I thought he should have blocked three punts to be honest with you. I hope that'll come as his experience gets better, but he did a really nice job of putting a lot of pressure on that punter."
Hunter is still learning how to maximize his 6-foot-5, 252-pound frame and long arms but looks forward to refining his maneuvers.
"I use my age to my advantage," Hunter said. "I use it to learn as much as I can so by the time I get into my prime, I'll be a dominating player."