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Vikings Believe Team Approach Can Help Replace Hunter vs. Packers

EAGAN, Minn. — Plenty of focus will be on Minnesota's defensive ends group Sunday — both for who will and won't be on the field for the Week 1 opener.

Danielle Hunter will not, as the back-to-back Pro Bowler was placed on Injured Reserve on Wednesday. Per NFL rules, Hunter has to miss a minimum of three games. He can return as early as Week 4 against the Texans.

The Vikings will certainly miss his presence and his production. Hunter has posted consecutive seasons with 14.5 sacks, and became the youngest player to 50.0 career sacks in 2019.

The former third-round pick has also been durable, starting 48 straight games and appearing in 77 consecutive regular-season games. Hunter's starting streak is the third-longest current run by a defensive end but will end Sunday.

It's a  gigantic loss, but Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson will implement an all-hands-on-deck approach against the Packers.

"You just go play. To me, I don't look at it as a challenge. You just go play. That's part of football," Patterson said. "Guys can't play in games, we go play. That's why you have other guys on your roster, you expect for them to step up and go play and get the job done.

"We've never panicked around here and we never will. It's not a big deal on my part, it's not with the players," Patterson added. "We just go play and expect the guy that's going to go in there to play to give us his best effort and play to the best of his ability.

With Hunter now on IR, Minnesota still has five defensive ends ready to go on its roster in Yannick Ngakoue, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, Eddie Yarbrough and rookie D.J. Wonnum.

Ngakoue, of course, is a key figure, but also the newest member of that group, as he was acquired in a trade with Jacksonville last week.

While he has 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in his career, Patterson said he's been impressed by Ngakoue's work ethic since arriving in Minnesota.

"He's been outstanding. He's been better than I've ever dreamed," Patterson said. "He's come in early, he's stayed late, he's got a great hunger for knowledge and wanting to be good, and I've been very, very impressed with him.

"I'm excited that he's here even more after having these days to work with him. He's done an outstanding job," Patterson added.

Odenigbo, who could be in line for a starting role, had one of his 7.0 sacks on Aaron Rodgers in 2019.

Patterson expects Odenigbo to be his usual energetic self on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"I think he'll play like he always plays. You know what I mean? He's a football player," Patterson said. "It's part of business, and he's going to go play hard and he's going to go play physical and he's going to go give us everything that he's got like he's always done.

"I don't think there's any more added juice to it because we added a new guy," Patterson added. "I think he's going to go play like he's always played and give us what he's always given us."

Holmes could also play meaningful snaps after moving back outside from defensive tackle in training camp.

So, too, could Yarbrough, who earned a spot on the 53-man roster with an impressive camp, or Wonnum, a fourth-round pick this spring out of South Carolina.

"He improved every day. He's done a great job of mastering the technique that we teach," Patterson said of Yarbrough. "He's a conscientious, hard-working kid. He's got some burst and some change-of-direction to him. You've just seen him improve every single day.

"He made it very difficult for us to release him," Patterson added. "And that's what a player should do who is trying to earn a spot on a team. And he did a great job with that in camp."

When Sunday's game kicks off, the Vikings will be missing 54.5 career sacks from Hunter.

The five other defensive ends have a combined 46.5 career sacks, but they will be looked upon to answer the call Sunday against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

And the standard, Patterson said, won't change.

"No, not really, because I coach them all," Patterson said of his defensive end group. "Because you never know what's going to happen. I mean, you just never know. That's the reason why we coach them all.

"Regardless of whether it's a d-lineman, a linebacker, a DB, we coach them all. Because that's part of the NFL. You're going to have guys that are going to miss games," Patterson added. "So, if you don't coach them, that guy doesn't get prepared to be ready to play, and you can't prepare him in one week. So that's the reason why we coach them all, they all get reps, we're hard on them all the time — for just that reason."