Vikings’ Top-2 Draft Picks Getting 1st-Team Reps for Different Reasons

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, right, introduces Mike Hughes during a news conference as the team’s selection from the first round of the NFL football draft Friday, April 27, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, right, introduces Mike Hughes during a news conference as the team’s selection from the first round of the NFL football draft Friday, April 27, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

As we continue to roll through training camp, and eventually through the last 3 preseason games, there are a few things we can now be sure of as we look at our favorite football team.

– Kirk Cousins > Case Keenum

– Vikings Defense > Your Defense

– Mike Zimmer really doesn’t like fighting during training camp. He doesn’t care if it’s your teammate, scrimmaging partner, or your wife on the phone, just keep the fighting away from Zim. I pushed my sister over a vacuum cleaner once when we were kids, and I was grounded for a week. I wonder what happened at Mike’s house when situations like that arose..

The consistent greatness of both our coach and his defense should continue to translate into playoff and Super Bowl-caliber NFL Football, here in the Twin Cities, for years to come. Most of our core that is currently in their prime or entering it, is locked down through at least 2020. Life is pretty good in Vikings’ land right now. But, will it finally lead to that beloved Super Bowl team we’ve been waiting for? I’ll have more on that later this week…

For now, I want to touch on a few things that we DON’T know, as we surge toward the regular season, 2018-19.

– How big of a role will Mike Hughes play in 2018-19?

This question is becoming quite intriguing. Hughes has had a wonderful camp and summer in general, since he slipped to the Vikings at the number 30 pick in the April NFL Draft. So much so, that he is now taking first-team reps at the Nickel spot.

“So what, Eric. Rookie CB’s show up in the NFL every year and stand out.”

Not in Mike Zimmer’s defense, they don’t. Xavier Rhodes, who is now the best CB in the NFL, took a long time to find the right fit in Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme. Remember the boxing gloves Zimmer had him wearing? And more obviously, because of the newer timeline and lack of proven track record, we all know the struggles Trae Waynes has battled through in his first few seasons in the NFL.

But since the beginning of summer rookie workouts, we’ve heard nothing but positive things about Rookie CB, Mike Hughes. He got a lot of run in the first preseason game vs the Broncos and stuck out in a lot of positive ways. He had open field tackles and good coverage, almost securing an INT in the Bronco end zone, even.

And now, he’s competing in practice with Mackenzie Alexander for that starting Nickel CB spot. Alexander is a high draft pick himself, but like Rhodes and Waynes, struggled in his first two seasons.

But, if Hughes doesn’t win the Nickel job, how often do we see him? If Sherels wins the punter/kick returner role(s), and Hughes can’t secure the nickel, he might be relegated to gunner status on special teams… I don’t know how likely this is to happen. There are two kick returners back, a lot of the time on place kickoffs and injuries obviously like to catch hold of this team.

No matter what happens in 2018-19, however, it seems quite clear that Zimmer and the Vikings are starting to build big plans for Hughes, moving forward. Let’s also remember that Trae Waynes is due a big extension next season and the Vikings don’t look like they will have the money for him right now, especially if they are going to figure out a way to extend Anthony Barr before this season starts.

Here’s a highlight video of Hughes on Saturday:

On the other side of the team, on offense, the Vikings’ 2nd round pick was getting first-team reps as well. Brian O’Neil did play pretty well on Saturday and the coaches are happy with how he is progressing but O’Neil is a former TE and the Vikings hope he ends up being more of a high-ceiling, long-term project, than a guy they need to use right away. He’s also undersized, weighing in at just 290 lbs before the draft, although he reportedly has pushed that up to 300 now.

Because of all of the injuries decimating the Vikings’ offensive line, Brian has been hitting the field with the ones’ a bit at right tackle. The Vikings might also be planning to use his athleticism a bit to work him into the normal game plan as a “swing” tackle for screen passes and outside running plays, that require a lineman to swing behind and around the line, to get out ahead of the ball carrier.

Here is a quick film session thread I ran into on Twitter yesterday that highlights some Brian O’Neil during Saturday’s games:

Eric Strack
Minnesota Sports Fan @RealMNSportsFan

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