Dalton Risner Wants To Show Everyone That He's Hungry

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dalton Risner returned to the Twin Cities hungry. After holding out for a starter’s contract, he agreed to an incentive-laden one-year, $2.41 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Last year, Risner signed with the Vikings on September 19, five days before their Week 3 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Risner quickly picked up Minnesota’s offense. He debuted against the Chicago Bears in Week 6 and started the Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers a week later. However, Risner didn’t want to wait this year. He wanted to show the Vikings and the league that he was ready to go.

“There’s no reason to wait on a team that had an offer on the table,” said Risner. “And to be honest with you, I wasn’t getting much action anywhere else. I wanted to play in the NFL. I wanted to get here earlier than September.

“It’s one of those things that I want the league to know that I want to play football. I don’t want to be two years in a row where I’m waiting out to the last second. So hopefully, [it will be] more of a statement from my end, letting the Vikings know how serious I am about helping their football team this year.”

Risner had to balance establishing his value and showing his passion for football. For as outspoken and popular as he is, Risner is a mysterious figure. Why wouldn’t teams rush to get a fifth-year veteran who has made 73 starts in his career? Does he over-value himself because of his starting experience? Risner is a skilled pass-blocker but isn’t as good against the run. Maybe that’s the core discrepancy.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say this process was frustrating,” he said. “And you know, after what I feel like I’ve been able to accomplish. But you know what? I’m really, really proud and happy to be back.

“I’m ready to get back to work. I’ve been here four days. I’ve visited all my [food] spots, man.”

Risner believes he’s a starter, but he’s practicing with the twos behind Blake Brandel. The Vikings have backed Brandel during OTAs and minicamp, emphasizing that they see him as a starting left guard.

“It’s been very encouraging so far with [Brandel] stepping in that starting spot,” offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said in late May before Risner signed. “I think it’ll only grow from there. The more experience, the more reps he gets, he’s been a guy that anytime he’s been put in a game at several positions has come through for us. We haven’t forgotten that, and I think he’s earned this opportunity.”

Minnesota took Brandel in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. He’s been a swingman backup in his first three years in the league. O’Connell believes Brandel will benefit from focusing on one position and wants to create a viable competition to fill out the offensive line.

“Blake has been a guy, really since he’s gotten here, [he] has been asked to really be ready to play two or three different spots at one time,” said O’Connell. “So our challenge to Blake was really embrace that left guard spot through the spring, really get the teaching and the mastery of your craft at one spot, which he really hasn’t been able to do since he’s been a Minnesota Viking.

“We’ve seen the gains off that between not only Blake but his fit amongst those five offensive linemen. Then there was a purpose and a plan of bringing Dalton back to create a very competitive situation at that left guard spot. We want to play the best five guys we can.”

O’Connell said he could see the Vikings mixing and matching offensive linemen throughout camp, depending on who’s playing well. While Risner quickly picked up the offense last year, the coaching staff likes that he arrived in time for minicamp. The continuity should help Risner be better prepared for the season and allow the coaching staff to fully evaluate him in a practice setting.

“[We] could see a bunch of different combinations of guys in there, especially as we try to allow that competition to naturally kind of play out in a way where this time we have training camp, it’s not mid-season,” said O’Connell. “It’s not four or five weeks into the season whenever it was last year. Dalton’s got a year in the system under his belt. He’s a veteran player. He came in in great shape, ready to roll. So I feel really good [about] that position.”

Guard has been a longstanding issue for the Vikings, and it feels like they’re taking it seriously this year. Risner feels he’s a starter in the NFL, but he must prove it on this roster. He’s looking for a payday, knowing Minnesota can provide if he plays well. They’ve drafted their quarterback of the future and need to protect him.

Risner has a meaningful opportunity in front of him, and he’s excited to be back in a familiar place. The Twin Cities have become a second home to Risner, who grew up in Wiggins, Colo. (pop. 1,400) and started his career with the Denver Broncos. The 6’5”, 312 lbs. lineman has already returned to his favorite restaurants.

“The first spot, Taco Libre. Great, great joint, man. Oh, my gosh,” he said. “I get a mega quesadilla. They got a little salsa bar, horchata. And tonos, cheesesteaks, and pizza, dude. I get the South Philly, two over-easy eggs, some bacon, caramelized onion, [and] green peppers on a bed of french fries. Come on, dog.

“Then I wrap off the day at Kindred Hearth with a couple of soy eggs on my Caesar salad with a tavern pizza. Hot honey, pepperoni, jalapeno. Come on.

“The only place I haven’t been again to yet is Nashville Coop. So I’m probably going to go there. Probably need to chill out a little bit. You know, I need to relax just a little.”

He paused for a second.

“Screw it,” he said. “I’m going to go to Nashville Coop tonight.”

Risner is in camp and ready to go. It shouldn’t take too long to convince everyone he’s hungry.

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