Cornerback Mike Hughes’ duties for the Vikings have steadily increased, from defending the slot to rotating at outside cornerback and returning punts. His involvement is expected to continue growing as coach Mike Zimmer said this week “we need to continue to play” Hughes, who popped up on Thursday’s injury report as limited because of a knee issue.
Hughes has strung together his most active two-game stretch of the season playing 79% and 65% of the plays on defense against Washington and Kansas City. He’s the only Vikings cornerback trusted to play outside and in the slot, from where he deflected a Case Keenum pass in the end-zone two weeks ago. He said he’s feeling good seven games into his return from last year’s knee surgery.
“I feel like I’m finding a groove,” Hughes said. “Each week I feel a lot better. My body is getting a lot more in tune with the game, and I’m taking care of it a lot better. Hopefully I can get my hands on a couple balls this week. I’m ready to get a pick. Once I can do that, I’ll be rolling.”
Cornerback Trae Waynes [ankle] is also hobbled, but Zimmer expressed optimism in Waynes playing Sunday despite missing Thursday’s practice for reasons “not injury related.” Vikings cornerbacks share just two interceptions in nine games — one apiece from Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.
Hughes, whose only NFL interception came in his first game, said he’s eagerly awaiting the next one.
“Since I started back playing,” Hughes said. “In this league it’s hard to get a pick. There are a lot of quarterbacks who can make great throws and fit balls in some windows you wouldn’t even think. You just have to be in tune with your technique and it’ll fall into place soon.”
Joseph, Thielen sidelined
Nose tackle Linval Joseph had a noticeable limp walking through the Vikings locker room Thursday after the Vikings stalwart was unable to practice because of a knee injury. Joseph declined to talk, but his potential absence would come at an inopportune time facing two-time NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas.
“We’ll have to see [Friday],” Zimmer said regarding Joseph’s availability.
Receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) and Waynes (ankle) were also sidelined Thursday. Fullback C.J. Ham (ankle) and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo (shoulder) returned to practice.
Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper underwent an MRI and missed practice Thursday, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told Dallas media, but they’re hopeful Cooper will still play Sunday against the Vikings.
Special teams help
The Vikings and Eagles completed a safety swap when Philadelphia claimed former Vikings rookie Marcus Epps off waivers Thursday. Epps, a sixth-round pick (191st overall) out of Wyoming, had been waived to make room for Andrew Sendejo.
Sendejo, claimed off waivers Wednesday, did not practice Thursday during his reunion. The 32-year-old special teams ace is dealing with a groin injury. He’s expected to provide depth and help on kicking and coverage units when healthy.
“He’ll contribute positively in some way at some point,” special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said.
Sendejo was a three-year starter (2015-2017) for the Vikings before a back injury and Anthony Harris’ play ended his run. He was cut this week by the Eagles after nine games.
Kicker Dan Bailey returns Sunday night to Dallas, where his NFL career started, playing in 111 games with an 87.6% field-goal rate in seven seasons. A 2017 groin injury contributed to Bailey’s end with the Cowboys, which led to him signing with the Vikings over a year ago. It’s no revenge game, Bailey said, keeping his focus on an operation that’s made 13 of 15 attempts this season.
“I had some good years there and enjoyed my time there,” Bailey said, “but I feel we have a really good group here with Britton [Colquitt] and Austin [Cutting]. Things are off to a really good start this year, and that’s the focus.”