Vikings rookie cornerback likes his new view

  • Article by: KELLY PARSONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 22, 2013 - 7:36 AM

Xavier Rhodes uses his experience playing wide receiver to his advantage playing on the other side of the ball.

The first day of minicamp had come to a close, and the Vikings in sweat-soaked purple and white jerseys trotted off the field at Winter Park toward the locker room.

But rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes wasn’t going anywhere.

For several extra minutes, he worked with some teammates on his stance, sliding his feet in order to stay in front of receivers and be more aggressive. He was among the last off the field on that hot Tuesday.

Rhodes said he is not taking anything for granted. He might have been a first-round draft selection — the Vikings’ second pick at No. 25 overall — but he won’t say where he thinks he will land on the depth chart or even if he will start at all. Because right now, he said he is just focused on ­improving.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who was also his teammate at Florida State, has already seen that happen in the short time Rhodes has been in Minnesota.

“[At Florida State] he was out there just playing with talent. He was just trying to be better than the guy in front of him,” Ponder said. “But as the years go on and the more experience you get, you understand more and more. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time understanding the game and understanding the defense.”

Rhodes, who led Miami’s Norland High School in rushing and receiving yards his senior year, went to college hoping to play wide receiver. Because of Rhodes’ large frame, though, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had something different in mind. As soon as Rhodes got there, Fisher moved him to cornerback.

“I wanted to transfer the first day,” Rhodes said.

Instead, he redshirted his first year in Tallahassee. Still, Rhodes said it took him a while to get on board with the position change until one day in practice, four months after he got the initial news, Rhodes finally realized he was in the right spot.

“I went against one of our best receivers. I jammed him at the line, and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s about that time,’ ” Rhodes said. “ ‘I think I want to play corner from now on.’ ”

Now, Rhodes said the experience he had at wide receiver helps him defend against the kind of player he thought he was meant to be. Knowing what frustrated him on that side of the ball spawned the physicality that makes him excel at press coverage.

Big for a cornerback

Rhodes’ size — 6-1, 210 pounds — makes him large for an NFL cornerback, which could serve the Vikings well against the likes of big NFC North receivers Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson. Rhodes could start on the other side of Chris Cook, another big corner at 6-2.

Still, Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams wouldn’t say who the go-to guys would be come September.

“When you have a lot DBs, you can play multiple packages,” Williams said. “In today’s NFL pass-happy world, the nickel is a starter. He’s playing almost 50 percent, and sometimes more than the base package. You need three, four, five ­corners to function in today’s NFL.”

Rhodes knows he is one of several competing for the job. But for now, as he works to become what he calls a “complete corner,” Rhodes said he isn’t dwelling on that. The lifelong Floridian has other things to think about, like getting used to the NFL’s fast-paced tempo and the looming Minnesota winter.

Besides, patience has already delivered Rhodes his livelihood. Now he is simply waiting for the hard work that he has added to bring him success.

 

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