Another week, another call to the next man up in the Vikings secondary … or is the last man standing?
In the season opener against Detroit, the four starting secondary players for the Vikings – Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford – were on the field for 100 percent of the snaps and rookie Xavier Rhodes was on the field for 80 percent of the plays.
The Vikings had high hopes for the secondary, but injuries have taken a significant toll. Cook has missed three games due to injury. Smith has missed the last five. Sanford has missed three games. Robinson is on the shelf for the next month or more with a cracked sternum. Rhodes is the only secondary player with a significant role in the opener who has been on the field for every game this season and, heading into Sunday at Green Bay, he's the only player who will be making his 11th appearance of the season.
"It's football," Rhodes said. "Players are going to go down. Injuries happen. They've hit us hard in the secondary, but that's part of the game. No matter what position it is, the backups have to be ready to come in and play."
As the Vikings finalize game preparation for Green Bay, they do so knowing they won't be facing Aaron Rodgers. Instead, former practice squad player Scott Tolzien will be making his third appearance of the season. While the Vikings don't have a detailed dossier on Tolzien, Rhodes said he's not as bad as some of his numbers might indicate.
"They still look the same on tape to me," Rhodes said. "Obviously, Aaron Rodgers can do things few other quarterbacks can do, but if you look at the last couple of games, they're still doing many of the same things they did before he got hurt. They spread the ball around, they take shots deep down the field and they still have some very talented receivers capable of making plays. I don't see (Tolzien) as a big step backward."
What Rhodes and the Vikings have noticed on film is that, despite not having their Pro Bowl quarterback, the offense is still effective in Green Bay because they execute play calls. The Vikings will have to match their efficiency if they're going to get a road upset.
"They're a good team," Rhodes said. "They execute every play the coaches call to their full potential. We have to match up to their level of execution because, whether they're trying to establish the running game, which they've done pretty well this year, or are throwing the ball, they do a lot of things well. We will have to step up and bring our game to them and see who can execute better."
Rhodes has undergone an apprenticeship by fire, but feels that, in the long run, it will help him become a better player and will give him the opportunity to correct mistakes he has made. Rhodes wouldn't pinpoint what areas of his game need work, but thinks that his increased playing time will only make him better in the long-term because, when he does make mistakes, he learns from them and tries to not make the same mistake twice when he sees a similar situation again.
"In this game, whether you're a rookie or not, you always come to a point where you see errors in your game that you need to improve," Rhodes said. "Football is a game where nobody's perfect. You're going to have your ups and downs. My goal right now is to continue to get better, work on my flaws and try to eliminate them."
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.
Rhodes working on flaws as workhorse D-back
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