'Just go play': Vikings defense moves forward without Danielle Hunter for 3 games

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints is pursued by Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 05, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. ((Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, and they’ll be without one of their defensive line stars against Aaron Rodgers.

The Vikings placed defensive end Danielle Hunter on injured reserve on Wednesday. It means he’s out for the first three games, and the earliest he can return is Oct. 4 at the Houston Texans. We don’t officially know what is ailing Hunter. The team wasn’t required to put him on the injury report Wednesday after placing him on IR.

Technicalities aside, Hunter won’t be on the field Sunday. The Vikings aren’t dwelling much on it.

“Just go play. To me I don’t look at it as a challenge, you just go play. That’s part of football, guys can’t play in games, we go play. That’s why you have other guys on your roster, you expect for them to step up and go play and get the job done. We’ve never panicked around here, and we never will,” Vikings Co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. “So it’s not a big deal on my part, it’s not with the players, we just go play and we expect the guy that’s going to go in there to play to give us his best effort and play to the best of his ability.”

Hunter led the Vikings with 14.5 sacks last season, and is the fastest in NFL history to at least 50 career sacks in his first five seasons. Patterson isn’t worried about his star defensive end.

“He’s good, he’s the same old Danielle, smile on his face, happy go lucky. He’s good,” Patterson said.

So what will the Vikings do without Hunter chasing down Rodgers? Well, other players will have to do it. They traded for Yannick Ngakoue, who had 37.5 career sacks in four previous seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He’s expected to play opposite Hunter when he comes back, but could play a bigger role Sunday. It also means snaps for Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jaylin Holmes, the next two in line on the depth chart.

Patterson expects them to be ready, and says it’s why everybody gets coached and gets reps in practice.

“I coach them all because you never know what’s going to happen. You just never know, so that’s the reason why we coach them all. That’s part of the NFL, you’re going to have guys that are going to miss games,” Patterson said. “So if you don’t coach them, that guy doesn’t get prepared to be ready to play, and you can’t prepare them in one week.”

Hunter’s absence puts more pressure on the rest of the defensive line, and on the linebackers to contain Rodgers, who is at his best against defenses when out of the pocket and making plays with his feet. That’s especially important Sunday, with the Vikings featuring a young secondary.

After veteran safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, at least two rookies in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler will play their first NFL snaps. The Vikings’ defensive backs are 23 or younger, but co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer has confidence in them.

Gladney was the team’s second first-round pick, and Dantzler held his own against the top offenses in the SEC last year.

“They go in there with a lot of confidence that they can cover. I like what both Jeff and Cam are, and I’m excited to watch them play,” Zimmer said. “It’s going to be a real challenge against arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, but I think they won’t be afraid. They’ll step in there and go cover.”

Despite Hunter’s absence, Patterson said they have no plans to alter how they’ll try to put pressure on Rodgers. They sacked him five times in two games last season, and have 33 sacks on Rodgers in 11 games against him with Mike Zimmer as the head coach.

“We’ve rushed him well over the years and hopefully we can keep doing that. It’s a team effort in what we do, so just because we miss one guy, it won’t change what we feel we have to do against this quarterback,” Patterson said.