Rookie corner Mike Hughes was seen throughout the months of October and November driving around the Minnesota Vikings practice facility on a scooter. By day, he couldn’t walk. At night, he struggled to sleep.
For the second straight year, the Vikings saw their top pick suffer an October knee injury that halted a promising rookie season. In 2017, it was running back Dalvin Cook, their second-round pick. A year later, it was Hughes, the 30th overall selection.
Just weeks prior, Hughes had been holding his own in the Vikings secondary, playing 100 percent of snaps in a road win at Philadelphia. His torn ACL on Oct. 14 against the Arizona Cardinals started the clock on what has become an unfortunately common but nonetheless arduous recovery process that usually takes around 9-12 months.
“It was probably the roughest six weeks of my life, honestly,” Hughes said about his post-surgery experience. “I wouldn’t wish this type of injury on anybody, but it’s a common injury. Guys are bouncing back pretty well, and I have full confidence that the training staff will get me back to 100 percent.”
Hughes, 21, had team surgeon Chris Larson conduct the surgery and has stuck around TCO Performance Center to utilize the facility’s rehab resources. He’ll spend much of the offseason in Eagan, as well.
The Central Florida product is now in Week 3 of walking after shedding the scooter and wears a brace on his left knee. He’s been busy exercising the knee in the facility’s underwater treadmill but says he’s found time to sneak into some team meetings.
Hughes wants to use this downtime to further educate himself on the nuances of Mike Zimmer’s defense. He found himself ahead of the typical learning curve for the coach’s young cornerbacks.
“I felt like I was just getting warmed up,” Hughes said. “I wanted to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. My goal next year is to win Comeback Player of the Year. I did a lot of learning, still have a lot of learning. I’m only 21 years old. I’m excited to see how this facility, this franchise can help my future.”
Said Zimmer, “It’s a little early to be talking about next year, but I like Mike Hughes.”
The Vikings have a well-tested rehab process that has helped the likes of Teddy Bridgewater and Cook return from serious knee injuries. Bridgewater is poised to make his first regular season start Sunday for the New Orleans Saints after severly damaging his knee in a 2016 non-contact drill, while Cook has sometimes been the Vikings’ most dangerous offensive weapon on the field a year removed from his own ACL tear.
“The week that I tore it, [Cook] was in the training room with me all week,” said Hughes, “and he’s just been giving me some pointers and some things that he struggled with, and I’ve been taking those things in stride and try to be a step ahead of what he was able to do. He’s been pushing me to just fight through some things. He told me whenever it’s uncomfortable to just try to push through it, and that’s what I’ve been doing, and I feel like I’m making pretty good strides.”