MINNEAPOLIS - The mood was light and there were plenty of smiles as the Minnesota Vikings convened on Tuesday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan for organized team activities. It was the team's second session of the week, and first open to reporters.
Last week, Kevin O’Connell and the new coaching staff hit the field with the team’s 10 draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryout players. Tuesday marked the start of three weeks of OTAs, with a three-day mandatory minicamp in June prior to training camp.
The team has a different vibe, with a new front office and coaching staff in place after Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman were fired following an 8-9 season in 2021.
"I’m not going to get into comparing last year and this year. This year is a clean start for us, we just want to look forward to what we got here. That’s us chasing a world championship," Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said.
The task facing O’Connell and the new offensive coaching staff is finding innovative ways to get the Vikings’ play makers the ball. Justin Jefferson set an NFL record for receiving yards in his first two seasons. Cook has been one of the best running backs in football the last two seasons, with 2,716 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns in 27 starts.
"It’s just all fun going through the process of learning something new. Being around KO and our whole staff, it’s just fun being around this group and just going through the process with the guys we’ve got here," Cook said.
In Tuesday’s practice, Eric Kendricks was an observer and Harrison Smith was absent as his wife delivered their first child on Monday. Irv Smith Jr. appears healthy, participating in some 11-on-11 work after missing all of last season with a torn meniscus. Garrett Bradbury got all the snaps with the starting offense, and Bisi Johnson and KJ Osborn split time at the No. 3 receiver spot in some installs.
DANIELLE HUNTER BACK HEALTHY FROM TORN PEC
Nobody was happier to be back on a practice field Tuesday than Danielle Hunter. The star defensive end went through every drill and looked healthy in practice. His 2021 season ended in October, seven games in, after tearing a pectoral muscle in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
He spoke with reporters for the first time since before the injury, and said the return was a three-month process. He could’ve returned had the Vikings made the NFC Playoffs. He says he feels healthy, and has since March. It’s his second season-ending injury after missing all of 2020 with a herniated disc suffered during training camp that required surgery.
"It’s football, anything can happen while playing. I love the game of football, that’s why I’m here. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be here," Hunter said. "The biggest thing was just having the right people around me, motivating me and keeping me in the right mindset."
Hunter was the fastest player in NFL history to 50 career sacks in his first five seasons. He had six sacks in seven games last year before his season-ending injury. Now in a new 3-4 defense, he’ll team up with Za’Darius Smith on the defensive line.
That’s after the front office signed Smith in free agency, and picked up Hunter’s $18 million roster bonus in the offseason despite some trade rumors. Hunter says he never stressed about any of it.
"My biggest thing was getting through my rehab and coming back playing football. All that stuff, the contract stuff, I let that stuff handle itself with my agent and the GM," Hunter said. "The biggest thing was just trying to get back playing football, being around the guys. It kind of hurts just watching people play without being able to play. Happy to just be back with my teammates."
The Vikings new regime has interest in keeping Hunter in Minnesota on a long-term deal. Hunter says he’ll let that work itself out.