Danielle Hunter has established himself as one of the top defensive ends in the NFL in his first five seasons, becoming the youngest player (at 25) in league history to reach 50 career sacks. He will enter this season with 54.5 sacks, including 14.5 in each of the past two years.
Hunter has spent his career playing left end because the Vikings had Everson Griffen entrenched on the right side. But Griffen’s departure after last season created the opportunity to move Hunter to the right, where he would be rushing from the blindside of righthanded quarterbacks.
So is that move being considered? Andre Patterson, the Vikings’ co-defensive coordinator and line coach, was asked that question Friday during a video chat with reporters.
“He’s still a left defensive end for me,” Patterson said. “Why would you move somebody that’s doing something great? I don’t understand that. He’s the fastest to 50 sacks in NFL history. You guys would be all over me if I moved him to the right and all of a sudden he wasn’t very good. I’m smarter than that. We’re going to keep him where he feels comfortable. Obviously, there are going to be games where we move him around a little bit just like we did with him and Everson in the New Orleans game. But I don’t want to take a guy from where he’s comfortable. … To me, that’s not very smart as a coach. I may not be very bright, but I’m smarter than that.”
The Vikings created issues for the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees in their first-round playoff win last season by moving Hunter and Griffen inside at times.
Hunter staying at left end means that Ifeadi Odenigbo likely will move into the starting spot at right end. Odenigbo, a seventh-round pick by the Vikings in 2017 from Northwestern, had seven sacks in 16 games in a backup role last season.
“I think No. 1 is to just keep improving,” Patterson said of what Odenigbo needs to do. “Just keep getting better. That’s how he made the jump that he made last year. What he cannot do is put pressure on himself that, ‘OK, I’ve got a chance to be a starting player, so now I’m going to change my routine and change everything.’ That’s the worst thing that he can do. All he’s got to do is keep his focus on what he’s done to get himself to this level that he’s at right now and just keep improving and getting better and he’ll be just fine.”
One player Patterson won’t get to coach this season is nose tackle Michael Pierce, who signed a three-year, $27 million free-agent deal with the Vikings in March. Pierce recently elected to opt-out of the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. Pierce uses an inhaler for asthma and qualified as high-risk because of the condition.
Patterson did have a conversation with Pierce after his decision to sit out was made.
“All I told him to do is make sure he hires a good trainer and hire a great nutritionist because my focus is on the guys who are here,” Patterson said. “I’ve got to get these guys ready to go play. … My biggest thing for him was, number one, stay safe, make the correct choices out there while you’re away and, number two, get (a) great trainer that makes sure you stay in shape and find someone who can cook your meals to make sure you’re eating the correct things. So those are things that I went over with him.’’