ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the first time on a football field,
Hunter inhabited the trenches before the coaches converted him to a stand-up pass rusher in the 3-4, and the newly-minted linebacker adapted to the transition by finishing the year ranked third on the team in sacks and sixth in tackles. His 75-yard fumble return against Kansas City counted as the defense's only touchdown of the season.
After stints in Green Bay and Detroit, Hunter played in all 16 games at a new position for a new team in a new conference -- and after a mid-season head coaching change -- two new bosses. He quickly learned you don't last long in this league without the ability to learn on the fly.
"Change is always happening in the NFL," he said. "It's different coaches and different players. You just have to continue to adjust to the different things that come your way. The whole process has been like a unique learning experience. But it's one that's definitely going to make me a better player."
Entering his first offseason as a linebacker, Hunter plans to modify his regiment to reflect the demands of a position that potentially takes him from sideline to sideline on every snap.
"Now that I'm playing outside linebacker, it will be more outside linebacker-specific drills and just little things that I have to do in order to be successful," Hunter said.
While he said he plans to train at home in Charlotte, N.C., Hunter said he will make periodical returns to Dove Valley as the offseason progresses. He'll be packing just as many pounds onto his bench press, but said he has to serve himself a sparser plate at the buffet line.
The further you step away from the line of scrimmage, the less leeway you get at the dinner table.
"I don't eat as heavy as I used to eat when I was a defensive end," Hunter said. "I definitely will still eat, but I have to be more cautious of the things that I eat."
Like a wrestler or a boxer making weight, Hunter now has to meet the lean demands of a position that might require him to bull rush an offensive tackle on one play and cover a slot receiver in space on the next. To elevate his play at linebacker, Hunter said he has to increase his fitness without sacrificing any punch.
"You definitely have to be in tip-top shape," Hunter said. "You have to be in tip-top shape for both, but mainly at outside linebacker you have to have great agility, great feet, great vision, good speed and you have to have strength as well."
Surviving in the league has brought Hunter to three different teams and two different positions. He did not start a game until his fourth year in the league, when he started nine games for the Lions.
Originally a college free agent from Appalachian State University, the versatile defender is still learning new ways to contribute in a league that stays constantly in flux.
"It's been a tough road," he said. "A lot of learning, a lot of adversity, but definitely one that's humbling.
"It's one that definitely makes you a tougher player, a tougher person and just makes you appreciate it a lot more once you get your opportunity."