Rhodes: WR's skills, defender's mentality

Xavier Rhodes has been using the skills he learned on the offensive side of the ball to enhance his defensive abilities.

The hands and leaping ability tell of a former receiver, which he is. The tough attitude tells of a former running back, which he is.

The draft status as a first-round pick tell of a blessing in disguise that Xavier Rhodes was not kept at receiver or running back and instead turned into one of the top cornerbacks in the country – No. 4 according to his draft status at the position.

Coming out of Norland High School in Florida, Rhodes was a decorated receiver and running back. He was a first-team all-state choice by the Florida Sports Writers Association after leading his team in rushing and receiving. He also earned All-Dade County honors on the defensive side of the ball. He was considered the 50th-best receiver in the country, according to Scout.com.

But when he went to Florida State, the coaching staff asked him to make the transition to the defensive side of the ball full-time, a move he resisted at first.

"I was very upset because it's hard to learn something going backwards when you've been learning all your life going forward," he said. "It was difficult, I stood and I waited, I had patience and I worked hard every day. I'm a big (believer) at getting better every day. I worked at it every day and just dedicated myself to my position and my (craft)."

The receiving skills and natural athleticism he possesses show up in his ability to defend passes intended for receivers.

"You have to have great ball skills to be a receiver to locate the ball once it hits the air and also know how a receiver thinks," said the cornerback who had eight interceptions and 23 passes defensed in his Florida State career.

That's the technique he brings from being a former receiver. But he also knows the attitude some receivers have – the so-called prima donnas of the sport don't always embrace the contact portion of the game.

"Receivers don't like to get touched, they don't like to get touched at all. They don't like the corners to touch them or anything, jam or nothing like that. So I took that on the other side of the ball," Rhodes said.

But he said he was never that type of receiver. After all, he also played running back in high school.

"I always had that mentality. I was the person when I played receiver that liked to … try to find the contact. My coaches were always telling me I'm kind of crazy, I needed to go on the defensive side in high school," he said. "I was always a player looking for contact when I was at receiver. That's why they moved me to running back, to be honest, because I always wanted to run somebody over. They were like, ‘You might as well play running back.'"

The physical aspect of his game is what attracted the Vikings to him. They asked their cornerbacks to be physical at the line of scrimmage with receivers and be ready to support in stopping the running game.

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he is physically equipped to do that.

"When we saw him with his size, his strength, his ability to support the run, his ability to play press coverage, his ball skills were very unique," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "I think when we were looking at corners, Coach (Leslie) Frazier and the defensive staff had a specific player in mind to play corner in this scheme and it's our job to try to identify those types of players. Xavier fit every specification we were looking for, especially with the type of receivers we have to match up and the type of quarterbacks that we have to play in this division."

Rhodes said he's been hearing about receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall that he will have to face in the NFC North, but that's not his immediate concern.

"I'm not really worrying about those guys right now. Right now, I'm worrying about getting to know the defense, getting to know my teammates and also just getting to know the playbook, embrace the playbook so I can be a better person and be a better Viking and help my team out," he said.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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