Vikings’ Hunter reveals sack secret: It’s all about the hands

There's a good reason Danielle Hunter's hands are always moving, always practicing, always rehearsing the same fundamental techniques whether the big man is training in the offseason, warming up on the sideline with an assistant coach or, heck, just walking past a mailbox on an off day.

"Pass rushing is all about using your hands," said the Vikings edge rusher. "I never get one of those freebie sacks. I'm a technician so I've constantly worked my hands. Do it day in and day out, it becomes natural. Like breathing."

The Vikings are 0-2, but Hunter is breathing and playing quite well so far in Brian Flores' new defense. His four sacks tie him for the NFL lead with former NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt through two games. Six players have three sacks, including early NFL Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Micah Parsons.

At a chiseled 6-5, 263 pounds, Hunter's physical attributes rank at or near the top of the NFL. But the length, the strength, the speed, the quickness and the relentless motor are dependent on Hunter's hands first defeating the hands of the offensive behemoth standing across from him.

"Danielle's hands are really good, one of the best there is," said Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill. "I've been going against him for six years. First, he always practices hard. Not everybody does that. Second, he makes you have to be super precise with where you place your hands.

"If you're slow or soft or too patient or too quick, he's going to just grab your hands and pull himself through to the quarterback."

Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said Hunter is even better when he's able to grab hold of something else.

"He'll grab you right there on the 'V' of your neck on your shoulder pads," Phillips said. "All those guys like him — Aaron Donald, DeMarcus Ware when I was with him in Dallas — I was always very impressed with how accurate they are with their hands.

"I remember DeMarcus Ware talking to Charles Haley at a Dallas Cowboys practice. Saying, 'OK, when [the offensive lineman] does this, you grab him right here by the elbow and do …' And I'm thinking, 'Can you really do all that when you're going that fast in the moment?' Sure enough, he could."

Hunter's first sack this season came exactly as Phillips described.

Bucs right tackle Luke Goedeke missed his initial punch move, which allowed Hunter to shoot his right hand to the 'V' on the neck of Goedeke's shoulder pads and clamp down. Goedeke essentially became helpless from there as Hunter steered him to the quarterback before tossing him aside and sacking Baker Mayfield on a three-man rush on third-and-long.

Hunter has reached four sacks, including three against Jalen Hurts in the loss at Philadelphia, without Marcus Davenport rushing from the other side of the line. The prized free-agent signing and former first-round draft pick hurt an ankle before the opener and has yet to make his Vikings debut.

Hunter looks forward to that day.

"Davenport is a guy who I think can carry the load," Hunter said. "I've seen film of him in the past just running over people, elite tackles. I'm also teaching him some stuff that I know, so I think he can do great things."

Naturally, Hunter's tutorials start with the hands because, well, that's what elite pass rushers do. Years ago, as he was going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former Vikings defensive tackle John Randle laughed as he told stories of scaring little old ladies when he practiced swim moves past their carts in the grocery store.

"Yeah," Hunter said, laughing, when he heard Randle's tale. "If I'm walking past a pillar or a pole, you relate it to an offensive lineman. Just moving your hands, visualizing. Great D-linemen are always doing some kind of hand movements on something."