The Minnesota Vikings seem to have two types of cornerbacks on their roster – wily old veterans like Terence Newman, who can do whatever is asked, and younger ones like Xavier Rhodes, who specialize in press coverage.
Rhodes is a physical cornerback that likes to force his opponents to the sideline and control them with his size and strength. This can get him in trouble from time to time, just look at all the penalties he had early last season, but this type of play fits perfectly into the aggressive style of defense head coach Mike Zimmer likes to run.
The problem is, though, that he still needs to learn to play off coverage because he is not going to be in press every snap of the game. Zimmer likes to give the offense a lot of different looks, so it’s important that the younger players develop a more diverse skill set, like Newman has done throughout his career.
Zimmer mentions that Rhodes has shown improvement in off coverage during the team’s offseason workouts, where press coverage is not allowed because there are no pads. But it still may take some time for him to master it because it is usually a more difficult style of play.
“It just takes a little while in off coverage because there’s air in the coverage,” Zimmer explained, “which makes it a little bit more difficult for the defenders.”
Rhodes admits that it is harder for cornerbacks during these offseason workouts because they have to be more technically sound, but at the same time that is helping them out in the long run. Playing in off coverage forces them to get their footwork down because they do not want to lose to the receivers on any given play.
They want to compete and win, but it is harder when the receivers get a free release off the line and get to do whatever they want. That is why Rhodes has been working extra hard on the finesse aspect of being a cornerback this offseason.
“You can be more physical with the pads on, but without you have to be more finesse,” Rhodes said. “Use more of your technique, so actually it’s tougher without the pads because you have to use your feet more. But it’s helped us out a lot being able to be off and be able to be in front of those guys, learn from that.”
When Zimmer first showed up in Minnesota, everyone had high expectations for Rhodes. He was a big physical receiver who showed plenty of promise under Leslie Frazier, a coach whose Tampa-2 scheme did not really fit his skill set.
Sure enough, he seemed to be off to a great start in 2014 when a more aggressive defense arrived with Zimmer, but may have taken a bit of a step backwards last season with all the penalties he amassed. Zimmer still has high hopes for Rhodes, though, and believes he can be a “really good cornerback” and an important part of that is to continue to master his off coverage.
“I think he can be a really good cornerback,” Zimmer said of Rhodes. “He’s obviously got great length, he can run, he can turn his hips good, he’s physical. Sometimes Xav is his own worst enemy and he will get down on himself a little bit. But I think he feels confident about what he’s done this spring. I think he’s improved a lot in his off coverage this spring. And we’re going to have to get back and work on bump-and-run when we get back.”