Guess Who Returned to the Vikings Practice Field?

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings training camp is ongoing, and some of the players have already been huge winners. Undrafted rookie Ivan Pace has drawn a lot of praise, just like first-rounder Jordan Addison, and Lewis Cine is quickly returning to form. But the return of star pass-rusher Danielle Hunter gave the team a spark like few other things can. 99 is back on the practice field for the first time.

Guess Who Returned to the Vikings Practice Field?

Guess Who Returned to the Practice Field
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter was holding out, or rather ‘holding in,’ which is a new form allowing athletes to avoid the hefty fines of $50,000 a day for skipping practices. He was in the building but not on the field. Those talks ended when the three-time Pro Bowler and the Vikings agreed on a new one-year contract, paying Hunter up to $20 million in 2023 with $17 million guaranteed.

He will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason unless the two parties agree to another deal before he hits free agency. Hunter said after the practice that he wanted to be a Viking forever. Now paid as a top-10 pass-rusher, it is time to get to work, and the top defender of the Vikings practiced in the walkthrough and some drills.

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Hunter, of course, is a phenomenal player and has shown that for years. One knock on him is that he missed all of 2020 with a herniated disc and all but seven games in the following season with a torn pec. Going into 2022, it was a big mystery if Hunter was still his old self after missing that much time, and he proved the doubters wrong, returning for Pro Bowl form while starting all 18 games.

The defender is a crucial puzzle piece in the new defense overseen by Brian Flores, who is excited to work with his top guy: “He’s an exceptional player, and I’m excited to have him as a part of the defense. Not only as a player but also the leadership that he brings.”

Hunter produced 71 sacks in his career, including a total of 39.5 in his last three fully-healthy seasons. In 2021, Hunter still managed to record 6 sacks in only 7 games.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

According to PFF, the defender ranked in the top 10 in QB pressures and QB hurries in the 2022 season among edge rushers. He also ranked in the top 20 in pass rush win percentage and racked up 10.5 sacks. Additionally, Hunter is an excellent run defender, as he had the 13th-best run-stop percentage of all edge defenders with at least 200 run-defense snaps. Hunter fired up all of that production despite having to learn a new position and some different techniques after the defense switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

He will get a new pass rush partner in the upcoming season after playing opposite Za’Darius Smith in 2022. Smith left for Cleveland, and the Vikings replaced him by signing Marcus Davenport in free agency. The former first-round pick is coming off a down year in terms of sacks and has an extensive injury history. For those reasons, he was available in free agency for a lo-risk deal worth $13 million for one season.

The duo will be an essential part of the defense, considering the newly assembled secondary with question marks all over the place. Neither Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, Joejuan Williams, nor Andrew Booth have a great track record in their young NFL careers. A strong pass rush is the best help a secondary can get, especially an inexperienced one.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt