When cornerback Mike Hughes returned to game action against the Raiders on Sunday for the first time since last October’s ACL surgery, he played with a brace on his left knee he said he planned to wear until he was comfortable enough to go without it. Based on what he did Thursday, Hughes might be getting to that point sooner than expected.
Hughes did not wear the brace during the open portion of practice, as he worked behind Marcus Sherels as a punt returner.
The second-year corner played 37 snaps against Oakland, showing some hints of his layoff in coverage. With Mackensie Alexander (who dislocated his right elbow in Week 1) also a full participant Thursday, the Vikings might soon have both of their top nickel corner options healthy. But if Alexander isn’t back for Sunday’s game against Chicago, the Vikings would look for another step forward from Hughes.
“I think at times, he’s still unsure of exactly what he’s doing, but he’s getting much better,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “You’ve got to be on the field to do any of it. It’s been about a month or so [since Hughes was removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list].”
Linebacker Anthony Barr, who missed the Raiders game because of a groin injury, joined Alexander in a full return to practice, while linebacker Kentrell Brothers was limited because of wrist and hamstring injuries. Guard Josh Kline, who remains in the NFL concussion protocol, was the only player not to practice.
Patterson’s skill set
Before the Vikings faced Cordarrelle Patterson last December in New England, Zimmer said the Vikings, in hindsight, should have used Patterson in the varied role the Patriots had carved out for him in their offense. Patterson gained nearly as many rushing yards (228) as receiving yards (247) for New England a year ago, lining up in the backfield and in the slot almost as often as he found himself split wide.
Patterson — for whom the Vikings sent four picks to New England in the 2013 draft — signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Bears this spring, and he’ll face the Vikings for the first of two times this season, on the field where he burst onto the NFL scene with a 104-yard kickoff return TD as a rookie. In addition to preparing for Patterson as a return man, the Vikings will see the Bears use him much in the manner the Patriots did a year ago.
“He’s still running some of the rocket sweeps, he’s lining back up there at tailback,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “They’ll have him outside at the one receiver, they’ll have him inside at the two receiver. They’ve got a nice package that they’re using his skill set in, and we’ve got to do a good job of being aware of what is going on in the game when those situations come on.”
Though the Vikings added Laquon Treadwell back to their roster earlier this week to give themselves a fourth receiver with Chad Beebe going to injured reserve, the former first-round pick was behind rookie Bisi Johnson at the end of training camp when the Vikings released him.
The team’s depth chart for this week has Treadwell behind Adam Thielen at one receiver spot and Johnson behind Stefon Diggs at the other. Rather than using three receivers on a regular basis against the Bears, the Vikings could opt to continue to increase rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr.’s role in the passing game.
But if Johnson — who played a season-high 13 offensive snaps Sunday against the Raiders — finds himself in line for more work, Zimmer expects he’ll be ready.
“I think he’ll do a good job if he gets in there,” Zimmer said. “He catches the ball good. I think he’ll be in the right place all the time, maybe threaten them with his speed.”
Johnson, a seventh-round pick out of Colorado State, saw eight of his 13 snaps in the slot against the Raiders, though he’s yet to catch a pass.