Back from a neck injury, grateful Hunter is happy about Vikes D.

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EAGAN, Minnesota (AP) – Neck injuries are no joke to an NFL player, and Danielle Hunters was serious enough to knock him out for the entire 2020 season.

Hunter winced as the Minnesota Vikings struggled hard without their two defensive ends at the Pro Bowl, the youngest player in league history to hit 50 career bags, and developed a deeper appreciation for his place in the game – and for sports medicine.

“I am very grateful to be able to come back from everything that happened and have a second opportunity to go back to the field and grateful for all of these children who are in school. I’m only here because of them, ”Hunter said, later explaining that he was referring to people entering sports medicine.

The opposite of an attention-seeker whose quiet demeanor has long contrasted his imposing stature on the field, Hunter predictably declined to reveal the nature or cause of his injury when speaking to reporters for the first time in 14 months on Wednesday.

He was injured at the start of training camp last year, a condition initially considered minor, so coach Mike Zimmer vaguely described him as an “improvement”, but was recommended surgery mid-season.

Hunter praised the support and training from senior sports coach Eric Sugarman and his staff, as well as the uplifting presence of family members as he delved into the often solitary rehabilitation process. Hunter also spoke weekly to Defensive Line trainer Andre Patterson, a strong connection that no doubt influenced his decision to take on a renegotiated contract and report for the minicamp this week after skipping earlier spring meetings.

“We tried everything to get me back on the field the right way, but in the end it was the result that it had to be,” said Hunter.

NFL Network reported last year that Hunter would seek a deal if the Vikings didn’t make him the highest paid defensive player in the league. That hasn’t happened yet, at least not yet. The bridge to extend Hunter’s time in Minnesota was built this week in the form of a revision of the deal he signed in 2018, with part of his paycheck converted into a cap relief signing bonus for the Vikings for 2021. In return, they added a $ 18 million roster bonus that will kick off next March, according to the NFL Network – unless he either gets a new contract or is laid off as a free agent.

In terms of his absence from the exercises earlier this week, Hunter avoided that question as well.

“The best thing for me at that time was getting myself back into the best possible shape and the best possible healthy shape. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to the media about business matters, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m happy to be back and ready to go, ”said the 26 year old Hunter.

He said he has 100% recovered from the injury but the only way to get back into shape is to play in a game, of course. That hasn’t happened in 17 months.

“We weren’t sure if he was healthy until he came in and did his exam. He looks amazing and he should be ready to go. All the other stuff, the money part and the contract and all that, is outside of my salary, ”said coach Mike Zimmer.

Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr, who also missed most of the 2020 season injury, are almost like free agents this year. Their return plus the real newbies – defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson, cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander and Safety Xavier Woods – have given the Vikings a better look at a defense that fell apart last season .

“I was pretty excited about what I saw when I got back. I think we’re pretty stacked, ”said Hunter.

Richardson, who was with the Vikings in 2018, said with a smile: “I always seem to play with a kind of freak-of-nature defensive end.”

With the return of Hunter and the takeover of Richardson this week, the line of defense suddenly looks a lot more like the formidable front fours the Vikings have put in for the past decade than the exhausted group of 2020.

In keeping with the primary minicamp story, former defensive tackle Kevin Williams was announced on Wednesday as the youngest participant in the Vikings Ring of Honor.

The five-time all-pro pick, the ninth overall selection in the 2003 draft, played 11 of 13 seasons in the league for Minnesota. He only missed three games until injury. Williams, who now lives full-time in his native Arkansas, was invited to Vikings headquarters to produce game day promotional content and was surprised with the news by owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf.

“I’m still in a fairy tale now, man,” said Williams after watching the practice session and then speaking to the players on the field.

Williams, whose 60 sacks are third all-time Vikings Defensive Tackles behind Pro Football Hall of Fame members John Randle and Alan Page, is tied with the franchise record with four career defensive touchdowns. His admission will earn 26 members the Viking Ring of Honor.

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