Xavier Rhodes leaves the initial impression that he is a soft-spoken, generally low-key individual.
That's when he's off the field. On the field, it's another matter entirely for the rookie cornerback the Vikings drafted in the first round, No. 25 overall.
"If you look at film, you'll see that being physical is one of my best assets. I don't have to say it. You just watch film and you'll see," Rhodes said, letting a smile appear on his face for the first time during an interview.
That's exactly why the Vikings drafted him. His measurables, at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, show the potential for being a perfect fit in the Vikings defense.
However, so far, film is the only thing the Vikings can look at to see how he will transition as an NFL tackler. Until the pads go on at training camp and especially in the preseason, the organized team activities that the Vikings just completed on Thursday and the mandatory minicamp next week won't provide a complete picture of the physicality.
"Right now, we can't really show off nothing, so I'm really looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to playing football," Rhodes said. "This is basically a phase right here that has helped me out with playing off, being non-physical. So that's helping me out a lot so I can be a more versatile corner."
The Vikings know what they got in Rhodes from their scouting work over the past two years, but the coaching staff has yet to see it in person because of the restrictions on offseason practices.
"It's a little bit harder in these OTAs to gauge some of the defensive backs because of the style of play we want to play here. We want to be closer to the line of scrimmage and really get our hands on people," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "This part of the offseason program you're limited in being able to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage, but we see enough of the athletic ability and the size – the size definitely shows up – and the speed. You can see that and the change of direction that he has so we know with those long arms he's going to be able to go out and do what we drafted him to do and that's go out and play press coverage. We'll learn more when he get into training camp and get pads on."
So far, the results have looked pretty good. Rhodes is getting his hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage and he can often be seen keeping up with them stride for stride down the field. He has stayed right with speedy first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson on several occasions.
Despite what has shaped up to be a generally young secondary, Rhodes said he is receiving help and pointers from others, including the starting cornerback on the other side of the field, Chris Cook.
"We talk basically mostly every day. When we're out here, he's telling me – not only him, but Josh (Robinson) too; Harrison (Smith) too; Jamarca (Sanford), everybody – everybody comes to talk to me and basically tells me what I need to know, what I need to do, how it's going to be as rookie and help me out so I won't be blindsided going in and not knowing anything," Rhodes said.
For now, the Vikings are making Rhodes earn a starting spot. He is getting most of the turns at left cornerback in the nickel defense, with second-year pro Josh Robinson sliding inside to defend the slot receiver in those situations. But when asked if Rhodes can be a starter from the first day of the regular season, Frazier said that was "potentially" the case.
Until that happens, he will have to prove he can handle it with a target on his back for receivers because he is a first-round selection.
"They're all going at me. They see first-rounder so they're going to see if you're truly a first-rounder. All of them are going at me real hard," Rhodes said.
"It's just a job so they've got to work hard. They're going at me and they're also going at every other corner."
Rhodes is just one of the few that has the size and speed to handle almost any type of receiver, something he hopes to prove even more this fall.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Rhodes ready for the physical play
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