For the second straight year, the rookie season of the Vikings’ top draft pick has ended in October because of a torn ACL.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that cornerback Mike Hughes will go on injured reserve because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Hughes, who injured his left knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Cardinals, will miss the rest of the season. He will follow the path of running back Dalvin Cook, who tore his left ACL last Oct. 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium and returned in time for training camp.
“We feel bad about Mike, because I think Mike is going to be a really good football player,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “But we got other guys here and we expect them to come in and do a good job.”
Wrote Hughes on Twitter: “Thank you everyone for the love and prayers! I would be lying if I said this isn’t frustrating, but with the support I have I’m confident that I will be back better than the player I ever was!”
Hughes, whom the Vikings drafted 30th overall in April, was injured while he made a cut in the middle of the field as he engaged with Larry Fitzgerald Jr. on a route. The Central Florida product had started two games this season, playing both nickel corner and left cornerback (where he filled in for injured Trae Waynes on Oct. 7 in Philadelphia). The Vikings had used Hughes in a variety of special teams roles, including as a return man, trying to balance his involvement there with his increasing role on defense.
“He was learning and continued to learn, and he’s got a lot of great attributes — I think toughness, and his skill set is really good,” Zimmer said. “But he’s going to come back, and he’s going to be great. We’ve got great doctors here and great trainers. We’re going to miss him, but we’re going to move forward.”
Zimmer did not say whether the Vikings will look to add another defensive back with Hughes’ open roster spot. They have used safeties Jayron Kearse and George Iloka in the nickel corner spot this season. Undrafted rookie Holton Hill could see more time, and the Vikings could bring former Gophers cornerback Jalen Myrick up from the practice squad.
In any case, the Vikings will have to decide whether they have enough cornerback depth, and a replacement for Hughes as a return man. As they prepared to move forward without him on Monday it was clear the rookie’s versatility and work ethic had made quite an impression.
“For a young guy, he was real professional about everything,” Zimmer said. “Studied hard, asked good questions. Never afraid to ask anything. Not afraid to compete. A lot of times it’s just learning the speed of the game and trying to understand the concepts and coverage and things like that.”
Zimmer said it would be hard for him to predict when Hughes might be ready to return in 2019, and the 21-year-old’s role next season will have to be determined once the Vikings have a better sense of how he is recovering.
Waynes is scheduled to return on his fifth-year option in 2019, and Alexander will be in the final year of his contract next season. The Vikings entered the season with as much depth at cornerback as they’ve had in years; Hughes’ injury served as a reminder of how quickly that can change.
“Well, the old saying [is], ‘You always need one more,’ ” Zimmer said. “In today’s game, they’re really valuable. If you can’t pressure the quarterback and you can’t cover, then you are going to have issues. … We want guys that can rush the quarterback and guys that can cover, whether it be linebackers, defensive backs, safeties, whatever.”
For Hughes, the promising start to his career has been put on hold.
“I just told him any goal he wants to accomplish is still in front of him,” Iloka said Sunday. “I haven’t seen too many rookies with the skill level that he’s had, and I’ve played with a lot of DBs — a lot of first-round DBs, as well.”