An ordinary trip to Houston, for Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, would involve a get-together with his mother, Willie Mae, and perhaps a chance to check in with his son, Klay, who’s coaching high school football at Strake Jesuit High School. On Sunday, he’d be able to walk up and hug Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who first played for Kubiak after Houston took him 11th overall in 2011.
The Vikings’ trip to Texas this weekend, however, will diverge from normal in several ways. The team shut down its facility for two days this week after it learned three Titans players and five staffers had tested positive for coronavirus after playing in Minnesota last weekend. The Vikings only got back to practice for the first time since the Titans game on Thursday; they’re prohibited from socializing with people outside their traveling party on the road this season, anyway, and they figure to be even more cautious after the Titans scare this week.
“One of the great things about this league is bouncing from city to city, being around the fans, your friends, your family coming to the game, and all that has changed this year,” said Kubiak, who was the Texans’ head coach from 2006-13. “It’s different for all of us and I think we all miss it, but we all understand what’s going on and we’re trying to deal with it.”
The trip for Kubiak, though, still represents a chance to coach against the team that gave him his first shot to lead a franchise in the town where he grew up.
He went 61-64 in eight seasons in Houston, leading the franchise to its first-ever playoff win in 2011 (when the Texans won 31-10 over a Bengals team that employed Mike Zimmer as its defensive coordinator). Kubiak spent two seasons in Denver and won a Super Bowl in 2015, but the Texans still hold plenty of memories for him.
Since Kubiak was fired at the end of the 2013 season, he’s only been back to Houston once for a regular-season game, as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2014.
On Thursday, a Houston-area reporter told Kubiak what Watt had said about him in his news conference Wednesday. “He’s a great man,” Watt said. “I love Gary; to this day, he still offers his ranch to me to go out and hang out whenever I want. I think he does that to every person he meets. He’s just that kind of guy. I’m grateful to have been coached by him and thankful to call him a friend.”
Kubiak sounded emotional as he talked about what the three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s words meant to him.
“As a coach, you get a chance to impact players’ lives, but they impact yours, too,” he said. “He had a big impact on mine. I wouldn’t have those great memories if I didn’t have that great player on my team when I was in Houston. Tell him I feel the same way.”
Hughes still out
Cornerback Mike Hughes missed his fourth consecutive practice because of the neck injury that kept him out of last Sunday’s game against Tennessee. Hughes, who was listed as a nonparticipant in the Vikings’ estimated injury report Wednesday, could miss his second game this season in Houston on Sunday. The third-year corner fractured a vertebra in his neck at the end of the 2019 regular season.
Rookie corner Cameron Dantzler was limited because of a rib injury, while cornerback Kris Boyd (listed as a nonparticipant Wednesday) practiced in limited fashion. Tackle Oli Udoh missed part of practice because of a finger injury.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter, who is eligible to return from injured reserve this week, wasn’t seen on the practice field, while guard Pat Elflein rehabbed with a wrap on his left hand after injuring his thumb before Week 2.
• The Omni Viking Lakes Hotel, the 320-room property on the team’s campus in Eagan, opened Thursday and will begin to host players and coaches before home games starting in November.