When Xavier Rhodes was first asked to don boxing gloves in a Minnesota Vikings practice, some viewed it as part punishment, part interesting coaching technique – a reminder to quit grabbing receivers as he covered them down the field.
A couple years later and Rhodes is voluntarily wearing boxing gloves away from the football field, even after making his first Pro Bowl.
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound cornerback took up boxing as part of his offseason workout routine.
“I’m trying boxing and that was a great thing for me. It helped me with my footwork and cardio, work on my hands, not grabbing as much,” Rhodes said when the veteran players returned to Winter Park for formal workouts before this year’s NFL draft. “I had gloves on a couple years ago, so I took in boxing after that.
“It was basically cardio. I heard it’s great cardio. I was just thinking of it. I had flashbacks to the gloves in practice. I just wanted to try boxing.”
Rhodes’ reputation is growing as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Earlier this week he was named one of the top 100 players for 2017 – checking in at No. 66 – by a vote of his fellow NFL players.
But, despite finally getting some of the recognition he has worked for, he continues to look for ways to improve. Some of that involves physical training like boxing offers. Part of it is getting smarter in his mental methodology and study habits.
“The mindset is just going in with a smarter approach this year. I learned a lot from last season and the previous season before I learned from all my mistakes,” he said. “I learned different techniques and down and distance, what certain teams do. I learned how this player differs from the next. I can’t compare every player, put them in the same boat, because they specialize in something different. I learned a lot from the previous years into this year. I’m taking everything I learned and shoving it into the next year.”
When it comes to boxing, Rhodes said he isn’t sparring with a partner, rather just using the sport to improve his endurance and work on his hand speed. If quarterbacks have “arm talent,” Rhodes wants to improve his hand talent to combat their passing, and boxing can do that.
“It helps with your hand placement,” he said. “As you see, it was a problem with me a few years ago, and also moving your feet and standing on your toes.”
When defensive backs coach Jerry Gray suggested Rhodes wear boxing gloves during practice two years ago, the emerging cornerback didn’t view it as a negative. Anything to get better, he figured.
“It was actually fun,” Rhodes said. “It was funny, but it helped also. Boxing is pretty fun. It’s an intense workout. I actually liked it.”
For Rhodes, it’s all part of growing as a player and embracing the growing expectations.