EAGAN, Minn. — One entered this season coming off neck surgical procedure; the opposite performed elsewhere in 2020 and got here again to a completely in another way function.
But as soon as Minnesota Vikings teammates Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen step on the sector and look at one another earlier than the ball is snapped — a glance that affirms the 2 are within the means of turning into a quarterback’s worst nightmare — there’s little doubt of their pass-rushing prowess. Over 5 of the previous six seasons, when Hunter and Griffen are on the sector collectively, the Vikings’ stress price (32%), sack price (8.3%) and yards per play (5.0) lead the NFL, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Data.
Neither performed for the Vikings final yr with Hunter sidelined due to a herniated disc that required surgical procedure and Griffen testing the waters as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
After struggling with out its high two edge rushers in 2020 and recording a franchise-worst 23 sacks, the Vikings prioritized enhancing throughout the offseason. That included ensuring Hunter, 26, was the place he wanted to be bodily and getting just a few contractual kinks ironed out earlier than coaching camp. It additionally meant bringing Griffen again to shore up the spot reverse Hunter, even when the 33-year-old did not begin.
Via three video games, the Vikings are tied for fourth in sacks (10) with Hunter nearing the highest of the league’s leaderboard with 4 of his personal. That features a three-sack efficiency towards Arizona, which isn’t any small feat towards the league’s slipperiest quarterback in Kyler Murray.
That’s a powerful begin for any participant, particularly one whose standing coming into the season was a serious query mark for the Vikings’ protection.
Would Hunter appear to be the identical participant he was earlier than the neck harm? His 16 whole pressures, which is tied for the third-most within the league, appear to point the reply is sure.
“It’s not a 32-year-old coming off an harm and having to overlook a yr,” assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson mentioned. “He’s nonetheless younger, so there was little question in my thoughts, so long as he was wholesome, that he was going to play like he performs. Plus, the kind of person who D is, although he wasn’t taking part in, he was finding out himself. He was making me movies of him and the way he performed within the run and the move, so it wasn’t that he wasn’t protecting his thoughts on soccer. He was nonetheless doing that too. There was no query in my thoughts about that.”
Hunter was cognizant of being affected person in his return, ensuring to distinguish between being totally wholesome and being in soccer form because the weeks wore on in camp. He stunned himself with how good he felt towards Cincinnati. After two extra video games, there was little question that he was again to regular.
“I really feel like I’m again,” Hunter mentioned. “Positively conditioning smart, I really feel nice. Go on the market and do what I must do to place my group in place to win video games. Not simply me however the entire defensive position.”
Halfway via the third quarter of Minnesota’s 30-17 win over Seattle, Griffen blew previous Seahawks left deal with Duane Brown with an inside spin transfer and twisted within defensive deal with Dalvin Tomlinson to take down quarterback Russell Wilson. He gave Hunter props for his exterior rush which helped him do his first “Sack Daddy” dance in a Vikings uniform since final within the 2019 season.
It is a new function for Griffen, who’s rotational pass-rusher for the primary time since early in his profession. D.J. Wonnum begins reverse Hunter at defensive finish, not Griffen who held down the correct defensive finish job from 2014-19.
However what’s being requested of Griffen, particularly his capacity to hurry as a three-technique, has supplied this move rush with a component it was lacking.
“I am simply right here to assist in any manner, inside, exterior, simply attempting to get a really feel of I am simply not finding out one man,” Griffen mentioned. “Up to now I used to simply examine the left deal with. Now I’ve obtained to check the guard, I’ve obtained to check the middle, I’ve obtained to check the opposite guard, I’ve obtained to check all people as a result of I am shifting round the entire offensive line. Wherever they’ve me go and wherever they’ve me play I simply must carry on getting in my groove and carry on serving to this group win.”
Patterson made a aware effort to ease Hunter again in strategically so when the season began, there have been no restrictions.
He’s taking a equally strategic method with Griffen, whose snap numbers look totally different however are yielding explosive outcomes.
“The damage and tear in your physique, as a few years as you’ve gone taking part in 60-65 performs each recreation, so I’ve simply obtained to ensure that I do a superb job of not overplaying him and carrying him out as a result of this can be a lengthy marathon for the season, and we’re going to wish him the entire season,” Patterson mentioned.