A Vikings fan engaged in a little small talk with Xavier Rhodes during training camp last month. While the cornerback signed a few autographs after a walkthrough session, the fan noticed Rhodes was walking differently on the field.
He asked Rhodes if he was injured, and Rhodes gave him a puzzling look. He wasn't walking lamely around Mankato. Rhodes was just strutting with a "dip," a noticeable hitch in his step that oozes confidence.
"It just comes out," Rhodes said. "I just come with a dip. I didn't think anybody paid attention to it, but I guess so. I've got to find a new walk now."
The "dip" arrives at a good time for the Vikings, who will be relying on Rhodes' newfound confidence to lead the cornerbacks in Mike Zimmer's defense this season.
Rhodes hasn't strutted like this since his last season at Florida State. He finished his junior season as one of the top cornerbacks in the country and a unanimous All-ACC first-team selection. It took Rhodes two seasons to develop that demeanor he has heading into his third year with the Vikings. The 25th overall selection in the 2013 draft flashed All-Pro potential last year in his second NFL season. He finished tied for fourth in the league with 18 passes defended in his first season under Zimmer, who is known for developing cornerbacks.
"You have to be confident at this position," Rhodes said. "Nine times out of 10 when that ball is in the air, a receiver thinks it's theirs. You have to change that in a receiver's mind to where it's not going to be 100 percent of the time you're going to catch this ball. It's going to be a 50-50 chance. That's what I have in my mind."
Rhodes has felt a bond developing among the cornerbacks. The Vikings added 13-year veteran Terence Newman, who spent six seasons under Zimmer when he was defensive coordinator for the Cowboys and Bengals, and they selected Trae Waynes with the 11th overall draft pick to improve depth.
"I think we have some talent at that position," Zimmer said. "… These guys all have a lot of ability in what we're trying to do and what we're trying to teach — the acceleration out of the breaks, getting in the right position, being able to play man-to-man, those things are all things that we like."
But it all starts with Rhodes, who must show more consistency this season. Zimmer believes the next step in Rhodes' development will be understanding how offenses attack. He has a great example of a film junkie in Newman, but Zimmer said Rhodes must put in that extra work if he wants to be great cornerback rather than just settling for being good.
Despite displaying his new confidence externally, Rhodes hasn't lost sight of that.
"The dip means I'm feeling good," Rhodes said. "I'm comfortable with where I'm at. I know I still need work, but at the same time my confidence level is where it needs to be."