EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Danielle Hunter impressed as a rookie and took a significant step forward again in year two, recording 12.5 sacks in 2016 after tallying 6.0 in 2015.
What's next for the defensive end?
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said that Hunter has a "terrific skill set" with long arms, speed and strength, and has a great work ethic to boot. But one area that Zimmer is looking for improvement is when Hunter lines up before a play.
"There's times when he wants to raise up and start to peek and see what the play's going to be instead of coming off low, defeating his man, and then once he gets control of it, then figuring out what's going on from there," Zimmer explained to Twin Cities media members Tuesday. "So to me, that's the next step in his development."
Zimmer said that, in his experience, the tendency has been common among taller players. He said that it's something he consistently reminds Hunter of and that he's seen Hunter improve. Zimmer also added that it's "mostly on run downs."
Zimmer said that raising up before the ball is snapped can cause a defensive end to unintentionally reduce his own power in the lower-half of his body.
Here are four other topics addressed by Zimmer during his podium session:
1. Gedeon getting attention at weakside LB
Zimmer said that Ben Gedeon may be more of a natural middle linebacker, but he's liked what he's seen from the rookie in back-to-back starts at the weakside position.
Gedeon got the starting nod at Seattle and against San Francisco at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday night. Zimmer didn't say whether or not he would start Gedeon there again Thursday, but did say that he likes Gedeon's "old-school" mentality.
"He's tough, finds the football, gets off blocks well," Zimmer said. "And he's probably a Mike (middle) linebacker, but we're just trying to get the guys in there that can play, and I figure if we're playing 30 percent base, it's a chance to get him in the game more.
"But he's done a good job in there," Zimmer added. "And like all rookies, he's made some mistakes, so we're trying to clean those up. But he's pretty conscientious about that."
Zimmer said the fourth preseason game against Miami will be a good opportunity to "get these guys in there one more time and finish the process" of making a final decision on filling Chad Greenway's spot.
2. Catching up to quick counts
Following the Vikings third preseason game against the 49ers Sunday, Zimmer expressed disappointment in how the first team offense and defense played.
When asked specifically how the communication between first-team linebackers was against San Francisco, however, Zimmer said communication wasn't the issue.
"They quick-counted us a few times, and so we're used to being out here [at practice], and our offense really hasn't been going on any quick counts," Zimmer said. "So we've been a little slow lining up, we've been a little bit slow getting our hand in the dirt and getting things out. But the calls have been fine – there's no issue."
Added Zimmer: "It's something you need to harp on. And I noticed it the other day and didn't really say anything, so that was my fault."
3. Assessing Rashod Hill at both tackle spots
As the Vikings have continued to shuffle offensive line combinations throughout the preseason, Rashod Hill has gotten playing time at both left and right tackle.
Hill started the first two preseason games at left tackle in place of Riley Reiff. When Reiff returned to action against the 49ers, Hill was rotated in to relieve Reiff and then later played at right tackle with a different combination. At practice, he has gotten reps on both sides.
Zimmer said the biggest thing he's looking for from Hill is consistency.
"I had a talk with him today, but it's about being consistent with the things he's doing," Zimmer said. "If he does it the right way with the proper technique, he's pretty good. And then there's times when he gets off the reservation and he does 'this' one time and does 'this' one time, so he really has to hone in on being disciplined with his technique."
4. Looking for control from Kearse
Entering his second NFL season, Jayron Kearse has been "a work in progress" according to Zimmer, who said Kearse had both good plays and bad plays in his time against San Francisco.
"He's working real hard on trying to [improve]. And he came and saw me the other day about some of the things he needs to work on," Zimmer said. "I talked to him about … being able to come under control in the open field. That's when the tall guys in the back end, that's where they have the issues."
"And it's all about accelerating to the spot, dropping your butt, getting under control, and then when you go to tackle, getting back out of control," Zimmer continued. "If you try to go without trying to get under control, more than likely you're going to miss the tackle."