'I'm just ready to play': Mike Hughes eyes return from 2018 knee injury

A moment more than 11 months in the making might become a reality for Minnesota Vikings defensive back Mike Hughes on Sunday.

Hughes had his rookie season with Minnesota cut short after just six games. Facing the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 14, 2018, Hughes suffered a left knee injury that ultimately ended his season. It was later revealed he suffered a torn ACL and multi-ligament damage.

The No. 30 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft made an immediate impact on the field. In his first game, Hughes intercepted Jimmy Garappolo and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. He also had three tackles and three passes defended as the Vikings beat the 49ers 24-16.

Hughes started Training Camp on the physically unable to perform list, and signs are pointing to him making his on-field return soon, if not Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Hughes returned to full practice late last week, and was working on punt returns in the portion open to media on Friday. He's listed as questionable for Sunday's game on the team's injury report.

“I feel like I’m ready. Just want to get the OK from the coaches and doctors. I’m sure they’re going to do everything in my best interest,” Hughes said. “I’m just following the plan, trusting the process and whenever they decide I’m ready to play, I’ll be ready.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday the coaching staff is waiting for team trainers to give the full clearance for Hughes to return to the field. Hughes, after spending Training Camp and the first few weeks of the season doing rehab and conditioning on side fields, returned to team practice late last week.

Hughes is just happy to be back on the field, competing with his teammates.

“It feels good just to get out here and do some football drills. To get out here with my brothers and just compete and having fun. That’s the most important thing,” Hughes said. “I’m just taking everything in stride and I’m just ready to play.”

His possible return comes at an important juncture for the Vikings’ defense, despite being only two games into the season. Defensive back Holton Hill is suspended six more games after failing two drug tests, and Mackensie Alexander has been out with a dislocated elbow suffered against the Atlanta Falcons. He didn't practice all week, and has been ruled out for Sunday's game.

The Vikings need more bodies in the defensive backfield.

“He’s been practicing just as he has throughout. He’s moving around good, so it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the course of the week,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said of Hughes.

His teammates have also taken notice.

“For us to lose him so early like we did to that knee injury was devastating. But he’s bounced back, he used it as fuel,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said.

Before the Week 6 injury last season, Hughes had made 22 tackles, including 19 solo tackles. He also had a forced fumble and recovered it, and had been active on special teams with four kickoff returns for 107 yards.

Hughes doesn’t know yet if he’ll play Sunday against the Raiders, but when he does get back on the field, he’ll be sporting a brace on the knee for at least one game. He said it won’t limit him, and it doesn’t affect his speed on the field.

He said after Tuesday’s practice, he feels 100 percent.

“When I’m out there practicing, I don’t really think about it. I just play football and have fun,” Hughes said.

He doesn’t yet know when his number will be called. When it is, “I’ll be ready,” Hughes said.

“I’ve been working my tail off to get back to this point. Hopefully everything will feel back to normal and I can get back to playing football and having fun,” Hughes said.