Danielle Hunter has not gotten to the quarterback in his first two games with the Vikings, continuing a trend from his junior year at LSU, when he had just 1.5 sacks. But coach Mike Zimmer is seeing some progress there.
Zimmer, after pointing out that “he’s doing a good job in the running game,” went on to say that Hunter reminds him of some of the other young and athletic pass rushers he has coached throughout his NFL career in that the third-round pick will have to adapt to the competition in this league.
“He’s like a lot of young guys that I’ve had that have some athletic ability that relied a lot on their athletic ability,” Zimmer said after this morning’s walkthrough. “So there’s still some things that we’re trying to correct. I did see some improvement in some of the rushes last week. But he’s still got a ways to go as far as being consistent with that.”
While Hunter has not yet recorded a sack or even a quarterback hit, Pro Football Focus has credited him with six hurries on 70 pass rushes over two games. So the rookie has been effective at times.
“He’s had some good rushes and he has not-so-good rushes,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said that inexperienced pass rushers can get discouraged when the moves they are being taught in practice don’t translate to games. And as a result, they stick with what has worked instead of evolving.
“A lot of times young guys come in and if they don’t have success right away, they try something else. Then they try something else. Then they try something else. And consequently, they don’t get good at one thing,” Zimmer said. “You get good at one thing then progress to the next thing.”
At 20, Hunter is the youngest guy on the team. So if he takes to what Zimmer is teaching him, he has plenty of room for growth as a pass rusher.
Coach Mike Zimmer is back at Winter Park today after a couple of days away from the team. After the morning walkthrough, which was held indoors, Zimmer chatted with reporters. Here are some of the highlights:
— Zimmer spoke about the loss of right tackle Phil Loadholt. He said it is a tough loss, but he thinks “we’ll be fine” on the offensive line. “Obviously we’re going to miss Phil,” Zimmer said. “He’s a great guy in the locker room and he’s good on the field. But I feel good about the things that we’re doing with these guys right now and where they’re at.” Zimmer feels the starting group, now sans Loadholt, has been developing chemistry and confidence.
— Zimmer said the Vikings aren’t close to deciding whether they will start Audie Cole or Eric Kendricks at middle linebacker. “We’ve still got a long time to go before we have to decide,” he said. But Zimmer likes what the rookie brings to the table. “He’s active and productive. I like a lot of the things about him. I like his enthusiasm, his effort. He’s got great speed,” he said, adding. “I like the way he’s going. We’ll find some jobs for him to do.”
— Outside linebacker Anthony Barr participated in pre-game warmups Saturday night but was held out of game action. With Barr continuing to practice, Zimmer said we can expect to see him this weekend against the Raiders. “He’s feeling good right now,” he said. “We should get him some reps this week. You can tweet that one. We’ll get him some plays this week.”
— Zimmer isn’t sure how long offensive tackle Carter Bykowski will be out. The Eden Prairie native injured his shoulder against the Buccaneers.
— Safety Anthony Harris has had a quiet preseason. Zimmer believes the rookie free agent has been tentative. “He’s still young and learning,” he said. “I don’t think he’s totally cut it loose yet. But he’s doing a good job.”
— The Vikings will have their depth at cornerback tested once the regular season begins. Jabari Price must serve a two-game suspension and Josh Robinson isn’t expected to be back from his torn pectoral. But Zimmer says he is comfortable with the depth on the second half of the depth chart. “I like our corners,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good corners that have a chance.” He specifically mentioned Josh Thomas and DeMarcus Van Dyke.
— Zimmer was asked if the team’s performance against the Buccaneers and Monday’s practice were enough to get the sour taste from that sloppy final practice in Mankato out of his mouth. “The three fumbles were about the same as Mankato, I thought,” Zimmer said. “We had a couple silly penalties that we’ve got to get fixed. We’ve got to stop doing those kind of things if we’re going to be a good football team.” I’m going to take that as a no.
To keep a true fullback on the final 53-man roster or to not keep a true fullback on the final 53-man roster. That seems to be a question of late.
Psst. Lean toward keeping a true fullback.
Yes, the Vikings have tight ends who could handle the job in similar fashion, especially if Rhett Ellison keeps his spot on the team.
But basic logic suggests the Vikings didn’t keep two fullbacks on the roster all last year so they could dump Zach Line before the 2015 season. They liked the guy so much that they carried him on the active roster when more than one team put in claims that prevented the Vikings from moving him to the practice squad. They liked him so much that they let a currently better, but much more expensive and older fullback (Jerome Felton) walk away in the offseason.
Yes, coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in camp that it’s not essential the team keeps a true fullback on the 53-man roster. But the full context of the question and answer indicated to this observer that the intent of Zimmer’s answer was to simply to make it clear that Line would “have to earn his position, like everybody else.” And Line does appear to be a worker bee in practice.
Monday, offensive coordinator Norv Turner made his feelings known about Line’s role with the team.
“Zach Line is a very good football player,” Turner said. “He’s a very versatile football player. He can play fullback, he can play halfback, he can play on special teams. He’s having an outstanding training camp so I see him as a valuable part of our offense.”