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Bulked-up Vikings DE Danielle Hunter primed to battle for starting spot

By Chris Tomasson

Pioneer Press

The Vikings recently tweeted a pair of photos that showed off Danielle Hunter’s Mr. Universe-like biceps.

The message alongside them was, “Dear opposing offensive linemen, good luck in 2017.”

That led to several teammates of the defensive end chiming in with comments about the muscle he has added. Running back Jerick McKinnon wrote, “Look at yourself in the picture, you look unreal, bruh.’’ Wide receiver Stefon Diggs offered, “Who else want some of Deebo?’’

Hunter, 22, got a kick out of the photos and reading the comments.

“It was a nice picture,’’ he said. “I just feel blessed that God gave me this talent and this body, and I’m just glad my teammates respect it. … But I tell (people) that I’ve been working on this since I was little to have the body that I have.’’

The three-year veteran turned plenty of heads during spring drills showing off his physique. Working out during the winter in Houston with notable trainer James Cooper, who also trains former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Hunter put on five pounds of muscle to get up to 260.

Hunter will report to training camp along with other Minnesota veterans July 26. That gives him more than a month to work with Cooper in an effort to look even more buff.

“I feel like a few more pounds can be good,’’ Hunter said. “My goal was to just gain weight (during the offseason). I thought I was a little bit too light last year.’’

Hunter still managed to lead the Vikings with 12 1/2 sacks even though he didn’t start a single game. This season, though, Hunter is a good bet to move into the lineup as the replacement for Brian Robison, a starter since 2011.

During spring drills, Hunter most often lined up with the first team. The competition will continue in training camp.

“We both want to be starters, so I’m just going to go out there and we’re going to fight,’’ Hunter said.

Robison, 34, knows Hunter will be tough to stave off. After last season, Robison vowed to battle to keep his job, but said Hunter has played well enough to start.

“He is understanding the game a little more,’’ Robison said this week. “When he first came in here, he was kind of a raw talent. … You knew he had a lot of potential, it was just going to be how quick he could grasp the game, but he is a smart kid. … You can definitely tell he is applying it on the field.’’

Hunter was taken in the third round of the 2015 draft and began to really make an impact late in his rookie season, when he had 3 1/2 of his six sacks in the final four games.