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As Vikings pay tribute to great passer Jared Allen, Danielle Hunter seeks breakthrough


The Vikings’ Ring of Honor depth chart on the defensive line was read aloud to the 40-year-old retiree who will join the Eternal roster at halftime of Sunday’s game against Arizona at US Bank Stadium .

Tackle: Alan Page, John Randle, Kevin Williams.

Edge rusher: Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, Chris Doleman and Ring of Honoree-to-be Jared Allen.

Career bags: 899 ½.

“Wow,” said Allen, a four-time first-team All-Pro and two-time Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist.

“But …”

You mean there’s a “but” that comes with this list of all-time greats?

“We would have a hard time playing together in today’s game,” Allen said. “None of us missed a game. And none of us would want to spin like kids do today. And…”

You mean there’s another “and”?

“The way the league hands out penalties for rough passers these days, half of our sacks would be taken away,” Allen said. “Everything is passer abused in the NFL today. You breathe on the quarterback and it’s passer abuse. It’s nonsense. It’s gone too far.”

This season, the 5-1 Vikings are looking for a steady pass rush in a new 3-4 scheme that has moved Danielle Hunter from where he had built his own Ring of Honor resume. He has just three of the team’s 17 sacks, 10 of which have come two games against teams whose offensive lines have been decimated by injuries.

A bigger league-wide story also unfolds around quarterbacks and defenders having a harder time knocking them down without being penalized and/or fined for it.

It’s a familiar discussion that has taken on new life thanks to controversial callouts made earlier this month following a sack that caused Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a concussion. The chilling scene unfolded in prime time four days after Tagovailoa was allowed to return to a match despite wobbling and falling after being hit.

Days later, Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett was reported for “unnecessarily” throwing Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady to the ground. Then Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones was reported for landing on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr with full body weight despite taking the ball off Carr and possessing it in his right arm while trying to prepare his fall with his left arm.

“I see it as everyone signs on the same dotted line to play this game,” Allen said. “Yes, you have to protect the players. But at some point you lose the integrity of the game. That’s where we are at the moment.”

The target audience

Asked about Jarrett and Smith’s plays, Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who has spent 11 seasons adjusting to modern rules that mostly make offenses easier, shrugged and smiled.

“I have to keep the TV ratings, don’t I?” he said. “It’s the game, or something like that.”

Smith was then asked if perhaps these controversial calls for toughness could possibly turn fans away from the game. After all, people are always looking for fair competition and…

“Are they?” Smith interrupted him. “Are they? I think we’re not the target audience anymore.”

Smith wasn’t sure the recent heavy-handed calls were an overreaction to the Tagovailoa situation. “There have also been some pretty interesting rough calls over the past few years,” he added.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert analyzed all the numbers via the ESPN Stats & Information database and noted that through Week 5, the 29 rough calls were actually down from 54 at the same time in 2021, 41 in 2020 and 59 in 2010. The NFL Competition Committee, Seifert reported acting last offseason to reduce hard calls after 153 calls were called in 2021, a 12% increase compared to 2020.

Still, advocates will say it’s not the call volume that’s of concern. This is what is called in many cases and how it is fundamentally a game changer.

“I saw the other night at the 49ers game how the pass thrower stopped and didn’t even try to hit the ball,” Allen said. “He was afraid that if he followed and touched the quarterback’s face mask, it would brutalize the passer. I mean, come on. They have a helmet for a reason. The league takes the strategy of disrupting the pace of the quarterback- back, the offence.”

“Don’t say it’s player safety,” he added. “It’s just, ‘Protect the star quarterback.’ One hundred percent, the NFL harms the game.”

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​disagrees. He said recent controversial roughing penalties were simply mistakes made by flawed officials who are just as likely to miss roughing calls that should have been called.

Cousins, a 205-pounder who has never missed a game through injury in his 11 seasons, appreciates the extra protection that quarterbacks have had in recent years.

“The biggest is when they land on you,” he said. “When a 320-pound man lands on you and you fall several feet in the air, it’s going to be tough to stay healthy. So that was a win for the quarterbacks.”

The next generation

Tasked with maneuvering the modern NFL rulebook as the latest model in the Vikings’ long line, a guy who turned 28 on Saturday.

“I definitely looked up [at the Ring of Honor] and I saw the big names that came before me,” said Hunter, whose 63½ career sacks rank eighth in team history when including players who came before sacks. which became an official statistic in 1982.

“There are a lot of them. I think it’s just a culture of passing on a work ethic from one defensive lineman to another.”

Technically, Hunter is no longer a defensive lineman. He’s an outside linebacker with occasional covering duties in the team’s new scheme, which Hunter admitted he still isn’t quite comfortable playing.

“It’s something I’m still transitioning to,” said Hunter, who had a sack in each of the past two games. “I’ve been a hands-in-the-mud defensive end here for about seven years. It’s something new. It happens. Eventually, I’ll get there.”

Asked about the lack of a consistent pass rush, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said: “We just know we’ve got it. We’ve got the guys we can count on. … The story will be told. We we are still ahead.”

Hunter was 25 years and 40 days old when he picked up his 50th sack in 2019. He was the fastest to 50 among NFL players since 1982. Extremely durable until then, Hunter had no idea he would miss all of 2020 after neck surgery and all but the first seven games of 2021 through a pectoral injury.

“I feel good right now,” said Hunter, who had six sacks in those seven games last season, including three against Arizona in Week 2. [coach Kevin O’Connell] and the team did a great job taking care of us, as you can see from our injury reports. The guys are fresh. The guys are happy.

“And I think a lot of that is about knockouts, man. He’s played football. He knows what it’s like. All we do to keep our bodies fresh is the knockout call. And we thank him for that.”

Hunter played 80.6% of defensive snaps for the Vikings with a high of 85% against the Saints and a low of 75% against the Eagles. Like Allen, Hunter hates stepping off the court and feels his pace as a passer would improve with more time on the court.

“I come from the days of Jared and Everson [Griffen] and B-Rob [Brian Robison]when you need to stay in the game to boot,” Hunter said. “Nowadays it’s not easy.

Allen said Hunter has all the tools to be one of the best rushers to ever play the game. He didn’t watch Vikings enough to pass judgment on Hunter’s comfort level, but noted that he was also struggling to adapt to that Donatell-Vic Fangio defense when the Bears changed coaching staff in 2015. Allen was unsuccessful. to October before being traded to Carolina.

“It’s a tough defense to get into if you’re a 4-3 player,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of thinking, a lot of processing. It’s different rush angles, your footwork and your steps are different. It’s just totally different. But give Danielle a year and you’ll be fine.”

Iconic movements

No two great passing throwers in Vikings or NFL history are quite the same. Yet there is something each of them shares.

“It’s like that,” Randle said. “A great pass thrower looks at 1,000 gates. He was told there was a bag behind just one of those gates. It could be the first gate. It could be the last gate. The great pass thrower opens every door as hard as possible. he made the first door.”

Allen likes this analogy.

“Each of us had or has a different signature move,” he said. “But I think one thing we all have in common is this: violence. Violent moves. Doleman was violent in the way he attacked the outside shoulder like a classic speed rusher. Marshall was violent to the point of contact. Alan Page. Eller was obviously violent in her game. It’s a contact sport. Violence is good.

But not always allowed.

“This is going too far.” Allen said. “Quarterbacks make a lot of money. They should be able to get hit like the rest of us.”

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