Mike Hughes wouldn’t give reporters a target date for his first game back from left knee reconstruction, but we now know it falls somewhere in the first six weeks of the regular season since the Vikings removed the second-year cornerback from the physically-unable-to-perform list Monday.

“The next step is to keep being smart about the process,” said Hughes, who would have had to miss six games if he started the season on PUP. “Keep doing things that allowed me to get off the PUP list and keep working hard.”

The 2018 first-round draft pick was playing in just his sixth NFL game when he suffered what coach Mike Zimmer later called a “multi-ligament” injury that included a torn ACL while covering Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 14.

“I’ve never been hurt like this before, so it’s been challenging,” Hughes said. “It’s been another story to add to my journey.”

Hughes stressed several times that he’s being smart, slow and attentive to his trainers and surgeon as he works his way back from the first surgery he’s ever had. As he has throughout the summer, he spent Monday’s afternoon practice rehabbing with an athletic trainer on a separate field.

Hughes said he has no idea when he’ll return to team drills. He also said he’d like to go back to returning kicks but deferred all those questions to Zimmer.

“[The knee] feels stronger [than before the injury], honestly,” he said. “I know I still have a long ways to go, but we’re working toward that goal.”

Hughes has been seen running at what appeared to be full speed for some time now. But he says he has more speed in him.

“I feel like I’m there,” he said, “but I also feel like I have an extra gear to get myself rolling.”

Hughes said he’s not worried about taking contact on the knee. He’ll start out using a brace until he’s comfortable taking it off. After that, he said he expects his knee to feel “normal” in live action.

As for what he’s learned during this 10-month journey, Hughes said, “How to stay strong mentally. This is all new to me.”