Rhodes looking forward to early tests

Xavier Rhodes didn't think the Vikings were that interested in him, but he knows he will face daunting challenges in his first games as a Viking.

Xavier Rhodes knew he was likely going to get drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft. The only question in his mind was what team would land him.

Coming off a season in which he was a finalist for the Thorpe Award, handed out annually to college football's top defensive back, he had the credentials, as well as imposing size (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) to make an impact at the next level.

However, when his phone blew up and there was a Minnesota number, he was understandably stunned. Of all the teams he envisioned playing for, the Vikings weren't one of them.

"I was very surprised," Rhodes said. "Before the draft, I didn't have any contact with them. I didn't talk to them much after the combine. I didn't talk to them at all."

But the Vikings knew what they wanted at cornerback and Rhodes fit that description. Whether they didn't want to tip their hand to other teams as a possible explanation for the lack of contact is uncertain, but it came as a shock to Rhodes that, with so many other teams expressing an interest in him, the one that drafted him had the least outward interest in bringing him into the fold. Internally, however, there was much talk and research on Rhodes.

Rhodes made a name for himself at FSU as an in-your-face press corner – the type typically associated with defenses like the Ravens, Packers, Jets and Seahawks run – not the Vikings. But he was quick to point out that the Seminoles did play some zone schemes as well and that he doesn't envision any problems making the transition.

For his part, he's just happy to be in the NFL and a new member of the Minnesota Vikings.

"I feel good about coming (to Minnesota)," Rhodes said. "It's a dream come true to play for an NFL team."

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, a former NFL cornerback with size himself, said the Vikings have a plan in place for Rhodes, which will get him shifting around the field to take advantage of his skill set, which, after pre-draft film study, left Frazier impressed with what he saw.

"I sat down and watched tape with the position coaches and with the coordinators," Frazier said. "I was very well versed on the corners as well as the receivers and other positions as well. I had tremendous familiarity with Xavier."

Both Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman were clear that the Vikings needed a big corner to match up against elite big receivers Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. Rhodes' NFL career will be an apprenticeship by fire, considering the Vikings face the Lions and Bears on the road in their first two games of the 2013 season and Rhodes will likely draw more than his share of assignments against Marshall and Megatron.

Rhodes said he won't be intimidated by the big receivers of the NFC North and is ready to face what they are going to bring against him. He knows he will have his hands full up against such daunting physical receivers, but he isn't going to back down. While he dominated the college game, he knows the NFL is a different animal completely and Marshall and Johnson take a back seat to nobody.

"I'm going to have to continue to get better, because those guys are great players," Rhodes said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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