There had to be few people in the NFL who believed Danielle Hunter, who had only 1½ sacks in his junior season at LSU and only 4½ sacks over his three-year career in Baton Rouge, would turn into one of the best young pass rushers in the league this quickly.

The Vikings selected Hunter in the third round of the 2015 draft with the 88th overall pick, and he was the 12th defensive end selected. But he had six sacks last season, the second-highest among rookies, and 33 tackles overall.

“That’s just schematics,” he said. “You go and do your job. Over here it’s a different job for me, and that’s what I do on the field.”

The defensive end has emerged as a key player at only 21. Asked if he believed he would play so much so early in his career, he said: “Not really. I’m just going out there and doing my technique and doing what the coaches tell me to do, that’s just a big part of just doing your job. Just staying focused and stuff like that.”

This year, he has three sacks and 15 tackles in four games, including a safety and a fumble return for a touchdown.

Asked who has helped him the most in the transition, Hunter listed a long line of people in the organization.

“Everyone on the D-line has helped me a lot,” he said. “I always look at them and try to find something from each one of them that I can make a part of my game, and a big part of that is the coaches. Coach Zim [head coach Mike Zimmer] and Coach Dre [defensive line coach Andre Patterson] always stress things on me, so stuff like that helps me be the player I am.”

Hunter said the biggest help any young player can have in the NFL is simply getting repetitions on the field.

“I learned the game of football is full of athletes, but the ones that survive are the technicians,” he said of his rookie year. “If you don’t do your technique, you’re not going to last.

“[Last year] helped me get acquainted to the NFL, getting my technique right and seeing what the game is like.”

That same principle, he said, is what has turned him into such a good pass rusher so quickly.

“I just go out there, do my technique that the coaches tell me, do what my teammates tell me to do,” Hunter said. “Just do your job.”

Gophers beat themselves

The Gophers football team should be 2-0 in the Big Ten rather than 0-2. But that’s where the Gophers are, after they lost in overtime at Penn State last week before giving up a 54-yard touchdown run to Akrum Wadley with 5 minutes, 28 seconds to play in Saturday’s 14-7 loss to Iowa at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Gophers have beaten themselves, though. They are second in the Big Ten in penalties with 43 and lead the Big Ten with 361 penalty yards, an average of 72.2 per game.

Typical of that situation was Saturday’s game. The Gophers were outplayed by Iowa, but they really hurt their chances at forcing overtime when, with the ball on the Hawkeyes 13-yard line after marching 75 yards on five plays, the Gophers were flagged for a false-start penalty to make things more difficult.

That drive started with 1:26 left on their own 12-yard line, and the Gophers moved down the field extremely fast before failing to score.

Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said that the offense simply wasn’t in sync, and that led to all of the penalties on false starts and motion. The Gophers finished with eight penalties for 58 yards.

“That’s Mitch [Leidner], he has to make sure that back is set,” Claeys said. “A couple times it was the offensive tackle, too. He and Drew [Wolitarsky] just got to hurrying things a little bit too quick. That’s the thing, we didn’t have our timing.

“We were sloppy, and I think we got frustrated. We still battled and had a chance at the end and didn’t quite get her finished. It’s a tough day on offense. You’d like to have a stalemate up front and have chances, and we didn’t even have that.”

Now the Gophers have to find a way to win a number of road games if they want to have any shot of even reaching a bowl game.

“The one thing is you can’t hit a three-run homer,” Claeys said. “One game at a time. We’ve got to remember that, get ready for the next one, and we’re going to have to steal a couple on the road. When you lose at home it’s difficult and so that will be the focus. We’ll go after it one game at a time, but definitely our margin for error is nil, or zero. We’ll battle. Our kids will battle, I believe that. We have to find a way to steal a couple on the road.”

University track is set

The building of the new Gophers track and the moving of the softball field and the Student Recreational Sports Dome will be officially announced at this week’s University of Minnesota Board of Regents Meeting.

The track will be located behind Siebert Field, and it will include men’s and women’s locker rooms and many more facilities than the other track.

The project will cost about $13 million. Some of that money will be spent to tear down the elevator across from the north side of TCF Bank Stadium so that the softball field and the dome can be situated there.


• Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said this past week that while Cordarrelle Patterson has only recently been used as a gunner on the punt team, the idea was initially brought up last season, but the team didn’t have a chance to implement it until now. The results have been great, including a forced fumble and a tackle in two games.

• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer talked about what he sees in Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler. “He’s got an extremely strong arm and for a big guy he’s mobile,” Zimmer said of the former Broncos backup. “He seems to know where to go with the football.” Osweiler has never faced the Vikings in his 24 games as a pro.

• Some encouraging numbers for the Vikings running game. Over the first three games this season, the team averaged only 2.0 yards per carry (153 yards, 74 carries). But last week against the Giants, they averaged 3.2 yards per carry (104 yards, 33 carries). Not great numbers, but it’s an improvement.

• The Texans will be the third playoff team from last season that the Vikings have faced through five weeks, after they beat the Packers in Week 2 and the Panthers in Week 3.

• While the Vikings held Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a career-low three receptions last week and held Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin the previous game, the Vikings will have another big challenge Sunday in Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, who has 17 receptions for 227 yards and two scores this season.

• The Gophers men are ranked only 13th in the first United States College Hockey Online poll of the season, although it seems fitting following their 20-17 record last season. They are the second highest-rated team in the Big Ten Conference, with Michigan at No. 11. The Gophers last started the season ranked outside the top 10 in 2011-12, when they were ranked No. 19.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO

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