EAGAN, Minn. — Harrison Smith was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl team Tuesday night, but the Vikings safety said perhaps Minnesota’s most obvious selection for the game was the guy who made it for the first time.
That would be defensive end Danielle Hunter, a 24-year-old who has set a career-high (and is tied for second in the NFL) with 14.5 sacks so far this season.
“No surprise there,” Smith said of Hunter. “If you see that guy play, I think it’s pretty obvious.”
Smith and Hunter were two of the three Vikings defensive players named to the Pro Bowl, along with linebacker Anthony Barr, who is also going for a fourth straight season. Wide receiver Adam Thielen was Minnesota’s lone offensive player to be recognized.
Hunter recorded a pair of sacks against the Dolphins, pushing his career sacks total to 40 and breaking Hall of Famer Alan Page’s record for sacks in a Viking’s first four pro seasons.
But the 2015 third-round pick said Wednesday he didn’t throw a wild celebration when he learned of his first all-star nod.
“I didn’t do much. Watched film,” Hunter said. “I know there’s a bigger picture ahead, so I’ve got to focus on that.”
Smith is tied for the team lead with three interceptions on the season and has tied his career high for sacks in a season with 3.0. Smith ranks second on the Vikings with 82 tackles (team stats) and has seven pass breakups, seven tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
The All-Pro downplayed the honor and said it is more of a team award.
“It’s an honor to be voted in, but that’s not what it’s all about,” Smith said. “Normally those things are because you have a lot of good players around you, too, and you play good as a team.”
Barr joined Smith as Vikings defenders to make it to the annual game four years in a row.
The ninth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Barr has 63 total tackles (team stats), six tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two pass breakups and one forced fumble despite missing three games.
He recorded the first multi-sack game of his career Sunday against the Dolphins and said he appreciated votes from opposing players and coaches.
“That always makes it a little more special,” Barr said. “Obviously you’ve got respect from people that you play with throughout the week and the year, so you’re doing something right.”
Thielen is a Pro Bowler for the second consecutive season as the Minnesota native is in the midst of another career year.
He ranks second in the NFL with 105 receptions, is eighth with 1,255 receiving yards and is tied for seventh with nine touchdowns, which is a career high for the former undrafted rookie.
Naturally, the All-Pro said his attention was on Sunday’s game in Detroit and not on the late-January festivities in Orlando.
“Obviously it’s a cool thing to be respected by your peers, the fans and then obviously the coaches,” Thielen said. “But at the same time, I’m so focused on getting better this week and trying to prepare for the Lions and trying to help this team win games.”
Cook, Murray compare spin moves
Dalvin Cook’s Week 15 performance earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after he ran for a career-high 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 carries.
But the Vikings running back deflected credit for that performance on Wednesday morning.
“It shows how hard we’re working around here,” Cook said. “To get an award like that, I give it to the offensive line.
“They did a great job this week of opening holes up and giving me lanes to run,” Cook added. “That award goes to them.”
Perhaps the most dazzling moment of the game was Cook’s final carry where he put a spin move on Miami linebacker Jerome Baker at the line of scrimmage before juking past safety T.J. McDonald and then using his speed to cruise past defensive tackle Akeem Spence for the touchdown.
Cook was asked about that spin move that started the play, but said it was just instinctive and that he didn’t plan it.
“I never surprise myself. We work hard and we put the work in and the time in to do moves like that in the game,” Cook said. “I don’t surprise myself but I don’t want to say that’s a natural thing that I do.
“It was there to do, so I did it in the game. When things happen in a game like that and you ask the player how they did it and the science of it, it’s mostly bull. It’s a lie,” Cook said with a smile. “It’s more of a natural feeling, a gift that God gave you. [The defender] just gave me a chance to make a move.”
Cook revealed Wednesday that when the Vikings running backs reviewed film of the game, he noticed that Latavius Murray tried to pull the same move the possession after he did.
Latavius, is that true?
“Once he did the spin move, I said I was going to try it but it didn’t work out as well,” Murray said. “I tried it toward the end when we were trying to close out the game.
“But I got dizzy and almost ran the other way, so I may not do that again,” Murray added.
Murray said he believes spin moves are becoming more frequent by running backs.
“With a spin, obviously you’re stopping your feet and turning your back … nine times out of 10 you don’t want to do that,” Murray said. “But when the time showed to pull it out, he showed it.”
Cook later joked that he’s had good success with an unplanned spin move turning into six points.
“Usually if I make a move like that, it’s a house call,” Cook said. “I rarely do it, so we have to keep that high percentage up.”
For the Vikings: Eric Kendricks (hamstring) did not practice. Chad Beebe (hamstring), David Morgan (knee) and Mike Remmers (low back) were limited. Kevin McDermott (elbow) was a full participant.
For the Lions: Damon Harrison, Sr., (ankle) and Charles Washington (hamstring) did not practice. Jamal Agnew (knee), Nick Bellore (ankle), Bruce Ellington (hamstring). Kenny Golladay (chest), Devon Kennard (hip), Don Muhlbach (calf) and Matthew Stafford (back) were limited. Marcus Cooper, Sr., (back) and Rick Wagner (concussion) were full participants.