The Vikings selection of Mike Hughes with their first round pick back in April drew mixed reviews from fans. Some saw an immensely talented, supremely athletic corner with tremendous upside. For others, the need for offensive line was too great to spend picks on nickel corners. Plus, given Mike Zimmer’s track record of bringing rookie defensive backs along slowly, it seemed unlikely he would make a tremendous impact early on. Well, here we are, weeks into camp with one preseason games in the books. And Hughes has done nothing but proven he belongs.
Against the Broncos on Saturday, Hughes was a standout. His cover skills were on display from the word go, as he faced only one target on 16 coverage snaps. Most notable was his polish in his hip-flipping and anticipation; he ran receivers routes for them on multiple occasions. Furthermore, he showed some tenacity in run defense, including an impressive tackle from the back end after a run blitz.
If there was one thing to quibble on regarding his performance, it would be his misplay on the one target he faced. Hughes covered the route perfectly and was in position for an interception. But as the ball was in the air, he overran it a bit, allowing receiver DaeSean Hamilton to knock the ball away. Even with that one play, however, Zimmer was all-positive on Hughes’ first outing.
“Mike did very well for the first time out,” Zimmer said “We were talking about some of our other corners and how their first game out was a little bit different compared to his. I thought that he played really well… He did a lot of very good things, it was a good step in the right direction.”
Zimmer has also been quick all offseason to praise Hughes’ ability to grasp the defense. At one point, he said the rookie has understood Zimmer’s schemes quicker than any other defensive back he has ever coached.
“Number one, all he’s done is come in and worked,” Zimmer said. “Number two, he’s been really good at understanding a lot of [concepts]. Our scheme is a lot of man within zones. That’s the most difficult thing for these guys to do.”
Yesterday in practice, Hughes’ early shine began showing with first team reps in nickel sets. The Vikings’ coach said this was a planned switch to gauge both Hughes’ and Mackensie Alexander‘s ability to adjust. But Hughes took advantage of the opportunity with a pass breakup on an Adam Thielen route.
As it stands, Alexander still holds the starting nickel spot and Terence Newman is listed ahead of Hughes on the depth chart. But there is no question Hughes has outperformed Newman thus far in camp. We will see Saturday when the Vikings meet the Jaguars if Hughes’ cover snaps increase, particularly against Jacksonville’s first team.
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