EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Danielle Hunter has played a role in the recruitment of Tashawn Bower not once but twice.
The first time occurred when Hunter was at LSU and played the role of host during Bower's official campus visit. The second time was more recently when Hunter told Bower about Vikings coaches and how it would be a good team for him to join if he had the option.
Bower joined the Tigers and played in 40 games across four seasons that he punctuated by recording 3.0 sacks of Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in LSU's victory over Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. He went undrafted last weekend and opted to sign as one of 13 undrafted free agents who joined Minnesota this week.
"He was my host when I had my official visit there, and we've been friends since," Bower said Friday after the first practice of Vikings rookie minicamp. "We're very close, and I know he's going to show me the ropes.
"He was definitely telling me how great the coaches are, how well they'll teach you and craft you into a better d-end and help you be successful," Bower added.
Hunter and other veterans are not on hand this weekend, allowing the rookies to take initial steps into the program and receive a substantial amount of reps.
"I think definitely knowing the coaches that they had here and what they can do and help me with my game [influenced my decision]," Bower said. "Seeing what they did with Danielle was something that was appealing to me. I just know that they had a great tradition of d-linemen here, so I wanted to be part of it."
Hunter had 6.0 sacks as a rookie and led the Vikings with 12.5 last season, blossoming under defensive line coach Andre Patterson and assistant Robert Rodriguez. Hunter returned a fumble return for a touchdown at Tennessee, forced a fumble at Green Bay and registered a pivotal safety at Carolina in the first three weeks of 2016.
"I knew he was going to come here and be a great player," Bower said. "I knew he's always had it. One day, it just came out of him and he hasn't stopped. I don't think he's going to stop anytime soon."
Working with RB
As expected, second-round pick Dalvin Cook generated plenty of interest on Friday. In addition to having his first media session in a Vikings No. 33 jersey, Cook also worked with new running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu for the first time.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about Polamalu on Friday and said the longtime college and pro assistant has impressed him.
"I've been really impressed with Kennedy in the short time (he has been here)," Zimmer said. "I got the chance to go on a couple visits with him and hear him talk to the players, talk to the coaches, his demeanor, the way he does it.
"[When he worked] in college, he recruited most of these guys anyway, but he's very smart, hard worker," Zimmer added. "He has got a really good personality. He has got a tough mentality, which is good, and … I better stop there. I was thinking something, but I shouldn't say it. No, I like him a lot."
Stay buckled up
A universal understanding around Winter Park this offseason is how disappointing it was to finish 2016 at 8-8 and unable to garner a second straight postseason berth or defend the 2015 NFC North crown.
Zimmer has done a considerable amount of self-assessment and spoken to multiple head coaches across the league to glean more information to shape future decisions. One he mentioned on Friday is the possibility of extending a practice if it does not meet his expectation.
"Going into last season, part of my whole goal was I thought we had a pretty good football team, and I wanted to make sure we got to the first game healthy," Zimmer said. "And so, maybe I was a little bit too cautious in some of those things. We're going to get back to being the Vikings, and we're going to be blue collar and do things the way things that got us to be when we played teams, that they respected the way that we played.
Asked if practices will be longer, Zimmer said, "Quite honestly, I don't care how long practice goes. If the schedule says two hours, and I'm not happy about it, we'll go 2:30. I don't care. We're going to do it until I feel good about it."