INDIANAPOLIS – Little did Xavier Rhodes know back then, but how he practiced in his first Pro Bowl contributed to his first ever NFL unemployment not lasting too long.
In 2016, Rhodes earned his first Pro Bowl nod. He was just a year away from being named first-team All-Pro.
That first Pro Bowl in Orlando for Rhodes was playing for the NFC team coached by Dallas.
Unbeknownst to Rhodes, then Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus walked away impressed by how the long cornerback went about his work, along with that rare build (6-1 and 213 pounds) and movement.
“I just fell in love with (Rhodes) in terms of his work patterns,” Eberflus, the three-year defensive coordinator of the Colts, now says. “I was just amazed for how the guy could move for how big he is. I mean the guy looks like a big safety and he is playing corner. We just really fell in love with him. He is a physical, really good tackler and he has played at a Pro-Bowl level.
“We are excited to get him back to that point.”
Rhodes struggled last season with the Vikings, hence why Minnesota felt the need to cut him, and save some money.
He allowed 81.5 of the passes targeted at him to be completed, with QBs having a quarterback rating of 123.8 against Rhodes.
Admittedly, Rhodes says he played through some injuries, starting and playing in 15 of 16 games. But he also knows one aspect of his game that needs to get better.
“If you watch the film, it wasn’t that I was getting beat or anything,” Rhodes says of his issues last season. “I just couldn’t get the ball out of the receiver’s hands. I was on every receiver I was covering – just (struggling) getting the ball out of their hands. That’s what I have been working on this year, just locating the ball a lot faster, reacting to the ball a lot faster than I was last year.”
Prior connections with Colts secondary coach Alan Williams (safeties coach) and Jonathan Gannon (cornerbacks) was the main reason why Rhodes signed with the Colts, on a 1-year contract.
Rhodes likes how Gannon was a ‘players coach’ when the two were together in Minnesota, from 2014-17, and thought he did a great job of getting players to strive to reach their peak level. Williams, the Vikings defensive coordinator in 2013—when Minnesota drafted Rhodes in the first round—instilled a hustling and accountability mindset that still resonates today with the veteran corner.
Even though the Vikings used more zone looks in 2019, Rhodes thinks the Colts will marry his strengths, and their preferred schemes, to get him back to a higher level of play.
Besides Rhodes possibly starting in the base defense opposite Kenny Moore, with Rock Ya-Sin certainly in the mix for an outside corner spot—in the base and/or nickel package—Colts players see the 30-year-old corner helping out in a key area that the secondary relied on back in 2018.
If you look at the Colts top 6 or 7 members of the secondary, everyone besides Rhodes is 24 years or younger.
Rhodes brings 104 career games of experience, and Kenny Moore thinks the new corner can offer an important veteran presence at the back end.
“I think it’ll be the same as whenever we had Mike Mitchell,” Moore says. “He brought a lot of experience to the room and he gave us a lot of pointers of things to look out for and things to expect. Mike Mitchell actually taught us how to watch film and how to take what we learned in the meeting room to the field each day in practice. So I think Xavier Rhodes can do the same thing.”
Moore, Anthony Walker and Al-Quadin Muhammad have all worked out with Rhodes in Florida this offseason.
They see a fit locker room wise.
“I’ve known Xavier for a while,” Walker, a Miami native, says. “Just watching him as I was growing up, he was one of the top recruits in the state of Florida when I was a younger player coming up. Seeing how hard he worked, playing hard at Florida State, playing at Miami Norland Senior High School down here, which is known for having great talent, standing out there, going to Florida State and then going to Minnesota. Trust me, if you are from Miami and you get the big contract everybody is going to know who you are. He got his big contact in Minnesota.
“This is my first time actually training with him, so seeing how hard he works and the energy that he brings every day in the workouts, I can just imagine the energy he is going to bring to the locker room and on the defense. I am excited to have him here.”