Mike Zimmer believes Xavier Rhodes has taken big strides entering his second season in the Minnesota Vikings defense under Zimmer, but there is an area where the cornerback needs to improve.
“The overall parts of the game – learning and understanding the game more, understanding what offenses are trying to do by formations,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes Xavier wants to go out there and, ‘OK, this is what I do’ instead of understanding everything about it – where offenses are trying to attack. Those are the next progressions in his development.”
Rhodes doesn’t disagree, but there is a caveat included when asked about Zimmer’s comments.
“He’s throwing in something new each and every day. It’s pretty difficult,” he said. “This defense is not easy, so you’ve got to get into your playbook and understand what you’re doing and also what your own teammates are doing, the teammate beside you because he can help you out once you know what he’s doing.”
To Rhodes’ credit, he has started a lot more games than plenty of highly drafted cornerbacks since his selection at No. 25 overall in 2013. As a rookie, Rhodes started six games and played in 13. Last year, his first in Zimmer’s defense, Rhodes made a big leap in starts, playing time and accomplishments.
In 2014, he started every game, had his first career interception and had 53 tackles with his coverage ability rounding into shape nicely.
Rhodes has been putting in the time to make that happen, saying his day doesn’t end after spending eight to nine hours at Winter Park.
“You go home and if you look at (film) for an hour or hour and a half … each day, six days a week, you’ve put in some time,” he said.
Like all players, Rhodes starts his work day before 8 a.m. with meetings, lifting three days a week, a walk-through, lunch, more meetings, practice, more meetings and finally leaving the facility sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. Then it’s home-schooling, which differs greatly from his schedule while attending Florida State.
“You’re in school in college until like 9 o’clock at night doing study halls,” he said. “Here it’s strictly football.”
That should help him continue to progress into one of the more promising cornerbacks the Vikings have had in some time. But don’t expect him to fully comprehend Zimmer’s total defensive outlook. Even the head coach admits that’s a process.
“It’s typically multi-year. Some guys pick it up quicker than others,” Zimmer said. “We stress it pretty hard; I think he’s starting to learn it. A lot of times if you do a good job studying you can have an idea of what kind of concepts this offense is running – you might get this certain split in this play – those things will help him out a lot. It takes some extra work. [Terence] Newman has it now, some of the things I talk to him about, he said, ‘Well, I knew he was running a post here by his alignment, or I knew he was doing this or that.’ The quicker guys can get to that, the better they can become.”
Eventually, Rhodes should get there. For now, he’s improved his positioning on receivers he is covering. His next goal, he said in training camp, is to come away with more interceptions rather than simply batting passes away.
Overall, Zimmer wants to see more consistency from Rhodes. There are the good plays and there are the occasional bad ones, too.
“He didn’t help the situation the (Saturday) night on that long pass. He has to be not just a cover-guy, he’s got to be a complete player,” Zimmer said. “The first third down they checked to that little wide receiver screen and he came up there and knocked the guy pretty good.”