It is hard to believe, but with about seven weeks before training camp, 2018 first-round draft pick Mike Hughes is now the most senior member of the Vikings’ cornerback group with two years of service and 742 career snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
And Hughes missed 10 games during his rookie season after tearing his ACL and then missed two more last year while coming back from that injury and then missed both playoff games because of a neck injury.
Hughes said last season that dealing with injuries changed his whole outlook.
“I have never been injured in my life, so being injured and not being able to do the small things in life let’s you realize what you take for granted,” he said. “It allowed me to see the bigger picture in life.”
Hughes recorded 22 tackles with one interception returned for a touchdown, one forced fumble and recovery and three pass deflections over six games in his rookie season.
Last season he had 45 tackles with an interception, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and nine pass deflections in 14 games.
Hughes said he’s working on absorbing all the lessons the coaching staff is teaching him.
“Depending on what the defensive call is, first of all, different formations, where receivers are lined up, where the receiver likes to get the ball on this certain formation,’’ Hughes said. ‘‘All of those things go into when you want to press or whatever coaches tell us to do. Whenever we see the opportunity to go up there and press we take full advantage of it.”
That Hughes is the most veteran cornerback shows that the group will have a lot of learning to do when camp opens.
The remaining cornerbacks who have played a professional snap on defense are Holton Hill (524 snaps), Kris Boyd (96), Nate Meadors (11) and Mark Fields (6).
The team also has rookies Jeff Gladney, Marcus Sayles, Kemon Hall, Nevelle Clarke, Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand.
For comparison’s sake, Trae Waynes, who signed with the Browns in the offseason after five years with the Vikings, has 3,149 career snaps on defense.’
“The defensive backs, they have a lot of stuff to do,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I have always had the opinion of you get better at covering when you’re covering somebody. It’s like playing basketball, if I play basketball [against someone] every day I’m going to get better at it. It’s really hard when they’re by themselves and they’re not able to really work on the skill of covering a receiver.
“You know receivers can run routes all day long and it’s pretty simple for them. Running back is pretty simple for them. But defensively, because of the reactions ... all of those things become more difficult when you’re by yourself.”
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said the team knows that they are going to need some of these players ready to go Week 1 against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“There’s some guys, even some of the draft class from last year are going to get opportunities on both sides of the ball to carve out some significant roles,” Spielman said. “Like I’ve described the evolution of the roster the coaches do a great job developing these guys and when you lose guys hopefully you have enough in the pipeline to replace those guys and for those guys to come in and play significant roles for us.”
Zimmer is known as a defensive backs guru going back to his days with the Cowboys and Bengals as a defensive coordinator, but with rookie minicamps being held virtually that means a lot less time on the practice field this offseason.
“I’m not really concerned if they give us five weeks or three weeks or whatever it is [for training camp] we’ll figure out how to utilize those particular weeks,” Zimmer said. “I‘ll be more concerned with working on the technique of each and every player when they get here. That might take three weeks. Who knows?
“Each player is a little bit different. But that will be the biggest factor. You can’t just roll the ball out and play, you can’t say, ‘Here’s your playbook and now you go out and play.’ It doesn’t work like that. They know what to do but they don’t know how to do it.”
Last season the Vikings allowed 3,737 passing yards, which ranked seventh in the NFC behind the 49ers, Bears, Cowboys, Rams, Panthers and Packers.
It was also the most passing yards the Vikings had allowed since 2015.
In 2018 they allowed 3,140 yards, in 2017 they allowed 3,078 and in 2016 they allowed 3,327.
That led to the other big offseason change for the defensive backs with the release of coach Jerry Gray, who headed that unit for six seasons.
After being let go Gray joined the Packers as defensive backs coach.
The Vikings replaced Gray with Daronte Jones, who spent the past two seasons in Cincinnati and the previous two in Miami.
Zimmer said that while he will miss veterans Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander, the staff can use the wholesale changes as motivation.
“It reminds me honestly of when we were in college, and we had five defensive starters graduate and you have guys come in that are redshirt freshman and you have to get them ready to play,” Zimmer said. “That part kind of energizes us as coaches as far as, let’s figure out what this guy can do, how fast he can do it, and how fast can we teach him the best way to get out there and play.”
Anderson ties Piper
The abbreviated 2020 Gophers baseball season was John Anderson’s 39th as coach, the longest-tenured head coach in Gophers history.
Ralph Piper coached the men’s gymnastics team over a span of 39 seasons. But his coaching was interrupted for two years during and post-World War II (1944-46). He coached from 1930-44, 1946-62, 1963-65 and 1966-68.
Men’s swimming coach Neils Thorpe coached the Gophers for 38 consecutive seasons (1920-57).
Several other Gophers men’s coaches led their sport 30 or more consecutive seasons — Wally Johnson (wrestling, 34), Roy Griak (cross-country 33, track and field 32), Dick Siebert (baseball, 31), Les Bolstad (golf, 31) and J Robinson (wrestling, 30).
Anderson’s contract runs through 2021. He was a grad assistant in 1978 and then an assistant for three years (under coach George Thomas), before becoming head coach in the fall of 1981.
Anderson has worked for 11 athletic directors during his Gophers career.