Rhodes to renew rivalry with Benjamin

Xavier Rhodes has stood up to the challenges from other big receivers this year and should get a few opportunities to prove himself Sunday against former college teammate Kelvin Benjamin. The Vikings CB talked about what he learned facing Benjamin for two years of practices at Florida State.

Xavier Rhodes is having a very solid second NFL season, but Sunday’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers will give Rhodes the opportunity to go back in time a couple years.

While Rhodes was building his NFL prospect file at Florida State, he was being challenged by receiver Kelvin Benjamin in practices. He spent two years doing that, calling it a “50-50 thing” on who would win more – the 6-foot-1 cornerback or the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver.

“He’s a big, fast and physical guy. He’s going to give you all he’s got,” Rhodes said. “He’s going to try to get to the ball. He’s a jump-ball guy. When the ball is in the air, he’s going to try to get it. He’s got strong hands so you’ve got to do your best to knock the ball out of his hands.”

Last week against the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers completed only 2 of 6 passes thrown Rhodes’ way for 18 yards. Those are pretty impressive numbers going against the NFL’s top-rated passer.

Although Rhodes doesn’t follow around an opponent’s top receiver – he usually just stays on the right side of the defense – he is likely to renew his rivalry with Benjamin, only this time in game situations and in the NFL, not practice at Florida State.

“We’ve been knowing each other for a while so it’s going to be a little something going on, but at the end of the day it’s still a game and we still have to do our job,” Rhodes said.

“We’re just going to go out there and play football. We’re going to talk when we’re out there on the field.”

But don’t expect much trash talk between the two. Rhodes is quiet off the field and said he is the same way on the field. Only one receiver this year, Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has said anything resembling trash talk to him this year.

As the 25th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Benjamin is proving to be worthy of the selection and holding up nicely in a very strong rookie receiver class that includes Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, Evans, Jarvis Landry and Brandin Cooks. He is second among rookies in catches (54) and receiving yards (768) and first in touchdown catches (8). He also leads the Panthers in receiving yards and touchdowns and should be a strong contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

“He has shown a lot of growth and is starting to understand what it takes to be a pro at this level,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “At Florida State it was evident that he was by far the better player. Here there are guys who challenge him.”

Rhodes will be looking to do the same thing. He personally has handled the test against other big receivers this year, including Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears.

“The only thing that’s different between those guys is their years of experience,” Rhodes said. “All those guys are big and physical, they use their body to box you out. When the ball is in the air, they’re going to get the ball. They’re physical with their routes. The only (difference) is their knowledge – that’s the only thing that’s different (with Benjamin).”

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