Rhodes taking more aggressive approach

Xavier Rhodes is determined to ramp up the interceptions in his third season with the Minnesota Vikings by changing his approach.

Portions of the play were familiar. Teddy Bridgewater was dropping to pass, Xavier Rhodes was in coverage.

Other portions of the play on Tuesday night weren’t so familiar. The intended target was Mike Wallace, new to the Minnesota Vikings via trade this offseason, and, finally, Rhodes making the interception.

Rhodes being in position to make a play wasn’t unusual. He’s been getting better and more consistent at that in the past year, and believing his improvement as a player holds signs that he could sometime soon ascend to Pro Bowl status.

“It was in Cover-2. I had to stay underneath the receiver. The ball was in the air and I just made a play on it,” Rhodes said of his Tuesday night interception of Bridgewater as time ticked down in the two-minute drill.

“It was good being able to make a play and get the defense off the field in two-minute.”

In the past year, Rhodes has been in position to make a play on a ball thrown in his coverage area. He led the team in 2014 with 18 passes defensed, five more than any other player.

However, actually intercepting the pass rather than simply batting it away was new. Despite playing in 29 games and starting 22 of those in his two-year career, Rhodes has only one career interception.

This year, his focused is more aggressive.

“Go and get the ball instead of knocking them down. That’s what I do all the (time). I tend to just try to knock them down, but this year I’m going to try to go up and just catch them this year,” he said.

Interceptions are often what all three branches of Pro Bowl voters – fans, players and coaches – look at when determining which cornerbacks gets their votes. While that might be part of the incentive for Rhodes’ change in philosophy, he also knows that a pass defensed simply ends the play as a win for the defense. A pass intercepted ends the drive and gives him and his defensive teammates a rest.

He entered the league as a first-round pick in 2013 and was only the second of three first-round picks in franchise history that went to a cornerback, and is now the fourth of five defensive backs drafted in the first round by the Vikings. This year’s first-round pick, Trae Waynes, is battling for a starting spot or at least playing time opposite Rhodes with veteran Terence Newman in front of him.

In 2013, Rhodes set a franchise rookie record with 23 passes defensed, which was also the second-most overall in franchise history. But this year he is determined to take an even more aggressive approach.

“This year I’m going to try to take it to another level and just try to pick it off,” he said.

“I’m just working on basically the mental outlook because my whole thing going into a game is to not allow a receiver to catch the ball, so any means necessary – either batting it or picking, intercepting it. But this year it’s intercepting the ball.”

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