Will Rhodes move for Megatron?

Xavier Rhodes hasn’t shadowed a big receiver from one side of the formation to another … yet. But that might happen with Calvin Johnson.

Over the last month, cornerback Xavier Rhodes has been quietly drawing praise as one of the better emerging cornerbacks. But Rhodes and head coach Mike Zimmer are still getting accustomed to one another.

With Rhodes ready to lock up will Calvin Johnson Sunday, the question is will the Vikings have Rhodes play the same side of the field regardless of where Megatron goes or have Rhodes follow Johnson wherever he goes. When it comes to playing chase-down corner, Zimmer said that is up to the individual player whether or not he feels fine moving from side to side or prefers to play a spot on the field and stay there.

“A lot of it depends on the corner,” Zimmer said. “It’s weird, I’ve done it forever and some corners just don’t feel comfortable on the other side when they’re coming out of breaks, instead of the right to the left and vice versa, and then some guys it doesn’t matter and usually have no problem going one side to the other. It’s more about the comfort level of the players than the matchups.”
Zimmer has coached many star players who had the tag of being defensive divas – from Deion Sanders to Pacman Jones. For some of them, being defensively ambidextrous wasn’t an issue. For others, it was a significant problem,

“You always like guys to be comfortable at what they’re doing and be multi-position,” Zimmer said. “Deion could play either side, but didn’t like playing in the slot. Pacman loved the right side, hated the left.”

One thing Zimmer won’t do is force-feed a style on a player, especially a talented youngster like Rhodes. Sometimes too much thinking can do more harm than good for a talented young cornerback. Because of that, Zimmer prefers to be a little more hands-off when it comes to asking too much of a cornerback in coverage.

“I don’t like to do it with young guys too much because it just screws them up, especially when they’re playing good,” Zimmer said. “(Rhodes is) a young guy and we want to just keep him going in the right position.”

Just as defenses can mix and match their coverages, the same can be said for offenses. When the Vikings played the Bears, it became clear early on that Chicago was targeting Josh Robinson with passes and creating mismatches with their tall receivers. Other teams have lined up big receivers in the slot to take advantage of a size disparity with Captain Munnerlyn. It’s part of the nuance of the game. It may not be for the entire game. It may be for a series or two. It may be when they’re preparing for one big play. Offenses will try to manipulate defenses by switching things up without warning.

“Sometimes I notice when there are certain guys in certain places, but it’s not like every play he’s on the right or he’s on the left,” Zimmer said. “Some teams do it by series. Green Bay might keep (Jordy) Nelson on one side for a while and the next series he comes out on the other side. Some of it is no-huddle. There’s so many different factors. But I’m sure that they do (seek matchups).”

The chess match that will go on between the Detroit offensive coaching staff and the Vikings defensive coaches will be a chess match to keep an eye on. Zimmer said he “doubts” he would move Rhodes from side to side to cover Johnson, but this would be the week to have Rhodes shadow a bigger receiver because Detroit’s complementary receivers aren’t anywhere near the physically imposing presence that Johnson is. It will be deep-level thinking as the Vikings look to limit what Johnson and Golden Tate can accomplish through the air.

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