Facing the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has a slightly special meaning for a couple of the Minnesota Vikings’ younger players.
The Vikings’ second preseason game Saturday night will be a matchup to savor for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who will be facing not only the top quarterback selected in this year’s draft and the No. 1 overall selection in quarterback Jameis Winston, but a former college teammate.
Rhodes and the first-team defense likely will only see a couple series before they are pulled from the game, but most of their time on the field could be spent defending passes from Winston.
“No motivation. Just another game, just an ex-college teammate,” the low-key Rhodes said. “It’s going to be fun going against him.”
Rhodes’ final season at Florida State was Winston’s true freshman year there and the Winston that’s portrayed to fans is the same attitude Rhodes saw three years ago when the quarterback was only a freshman.
“His confidence was over the roof,” Rhodes said. “He believed in himself and he wasn’t going to let anybody beat him. At anything. You name it – racing, anything, by any means, anything.”
For Teddy Bridgewater, Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pit the No. 1 pick from the 2015 NFL Draft against the last pick of the first round in 2014’s draft. When Bridgewater finished his college career at Louisville, many draft analysts considered him a potential first overall pick, but he fell to the final pick of the first round and the Vikings traded up to get him.
“I’m extremely excited for Jameis to take part in his first NFL game. Although it’s preseason, the atmosphere is going to be different than it was in college,” Bridgewater said. “I’m pretty sure he’s a competitive guy. I watched him throughout his college career and had a chance to talk with him when we were in college together, so I know that he’s excited and I wish him the best.”
Over the last five games of 2014, Bridgewater’s 72.1 completion percentage was the highest of any NFL quarterback during that stretch and he completed 5 of 6 passes in the Vikings’ preseason opener Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Saturday night will be Winston’s first NFL appearance and Bucs fans are hoping he is the answer they have been searching for at quarterback. Might it be matchup of two of the better quarterbacks in the league a couple years down the road?
“I hope so. Right now, though, I’m just in year two and he’s in his first year. We have a long way to go,” Bridgewater said. “I’m still trying to get better playing in the Minnesota Vikings offense. You can’t look too far down the road; you take it one day at a time.”
Rhodes might be less focused on Winston and concentrating more on receiver Vincent Jackson, whom he faced last year. In that game, Jackson was targeted five times but only had one reception for 13 yards.
“I went against him last year so I’m looking forward to having the type of game. It’s going to be a physical match,” Rhodes said.
At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Rhode proved last year that he can consistently handle the league’s bigger receivers. By the end of the year, Zimmer had enough trust in Rhodes to put him one-on-one against Calvin Johnson. Jackson is 6-5, 241, but Rhodes believes he has a handle on how to match up against bigger receivers.
“Be physical,” he said. “They like to get their hands on you and throw you around.”
Or at least try to do that.
Rhodes, Bridgewater ready to face Winston
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