Key matchup: Big Ben(jamin) vs. Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks

Minnesota Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes has plenty of knowledge about former teammate Kelvin Benjamin, but will Rhodes even play on Sunday?

There are times when former teammates become professional enemies. This Sunday, there is a possibility that two former Florida State Seminoles stars could be going against each other on occasion.

For two years, when Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was playing with the Seminoles, in practice he would go up against a wide receiver a year younger than him – Kelvin Benjamin.

He learned a lot about his craft in the hundreds of reps they would have against one another over the next two years. He also learned that, when a cornerback is unlucky to draw Benjamin for an assignment, the sledding is pretty tough.

“You play his game,” Rhodes said. “He’s going to throw you around. He’s going to be physical with you. You can’t allow him to do that. You’ve got to play with great technique and cutting him off of some routes, to the point where he can’t put his hands on you and then just staying on top of him. Once he puts his hands on you, you’ve just got to be physical right along with him.”

Rhodes has been sidelined since feeling a pop in his knee during warmups prior to the Week 1 and missed the first two games of the season. He has practiced all week on a limited basis, but was listed as questionable on the injury report.

While Terence Newman and Trae Waynes have held up in full-time duty, going up against a big, physical receiver like Benjamin requires a player who can get in his grill and not give him a free release down the field. Both Waynes and Newman are capable cornerbacks, but they don’t have the size and strength of Rhodes, which makes him more of a must-have player to meet the challenge that Benjamin will provide. Because of Rhodes’ injury, it seems likely that he will be slated for a part-time duty at best on Sunday – and perhaps could be inactive.

But Rhodes has built the confidence of playing similar players to Benjamin, like Calvin Johnson, and has more than held his own.


“I had a lot of experience going against a lot of receivers, a lot of big receivers,” Rhodes said. “That experience helps me out with various receivers. I went against KB, I think it was his rookie year and he did good. We had a good challenge. I plan on going against him this Sunday if the coaches allow it. We’ll see from there.”

Benjamin didn’t score when the Panthers came into a frigid, windswept TCF Bank Stadium, but he caught five passes for 56 yards. If the Vikings can hold him to similar numbers this time around, they would be more than satisfied, because, like when playing against Megatron, defenses aren’t going to shut him down, but they do their best to contain him from making the huge plays that change games.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has experienced putting corners up against big, impressive receivers and has a plan in place to try to handle the daunting challenge they bring.


“They have an advantage obviously on the jump balls and things like that,” Zimmer said. “You’ve got to fight them, you’ve got to disrupt them. You’ve got to get them off the routes. You’ve got to be able to go up there and get their hands apart.”

The Vikings are being quiet about whether or not Rhodes will be on the field Sunday, but no matter who is going up against Benjamin, Rhodes’ past experience with him will be valuable in how the Vikings’ cornerback react.


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