INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Xavier Rhodes and Adam Thielen came to the training camp together as rookies in 2013, one of them …
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Xavier Rhodes and Adam Thielen came to the training camp together as rookies in 2013. One of them was the Vikings’ first draft pick from the state of Florida, and the other was an uncovered rookie from the state of Minnesota.
For the next seven years, the cornerback and receiver followed similar scripts.
They fought for positions in the squad and survived a change of coach. In practice, they exchanged thrusts and challenged each other to improve. They went from part-time starters to full-time starters and eventually celebrated Pro Bowl experiences together too.
Then, in March, the Vikings let Rhodes go free and divided up long-time friends. They will be reunited on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium when Minnesota visits Indianapolis.
“He was probably a big part of who I am today because he challenged me, pushed me, made things very difficult for me,” said Thielen. “It helps you become a better soccer player. When faced with such a challenge, you need to do your best and get better all the time. So I give him a lot of credit for helping me become the player I am. “
Rhodes understands the feeling and sees many of those who will be on the opposite sidelines on Sunday the same way.
He will see Viking trainer Mike Zimmer, who taught the three-time pro bowler how to use his hands properly. Rhodes will see safety Harrison Smith, who kindly took him under his wing eight years ago. He’ll also see the two young cornerbacks he’s coached – Mike Hughes, the Vikings’ first pick in 2018, and Holton Hill, who made the team an unoccupied rookie this season.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are shortening conversations, limiting contact, and creating an unusual environment where only 2,500 fans are in attendance, Rhodes takes the opportunity to meet old friends and former coaches.
“It was a brotherhood when I was there and it is a brotherhood to this day,” said Rhodes, pointing out that he has no grudge against the Vikings. “When I trained against these guys, we played every single game, so it will be the same on the field. But I’ll be able to tackle them this time. “
The Vikings still value Rhodes very much.
“I love Xavier. He’s a great boy, a good competitor, ”said Zimmer. “We had a lot of good times together. We worked very closely together for a number of years, I think it was. I hope he has a good year and stays safe and healthy. “
The courtesies, however, don’t mean Minnesota won’t be shooting in Rhodes on Sunday.
Though Rhodes made the Pro Bowl as an alternative last year, by most reports, Rhodes had a subpar season. And while Colt’s coaches widely praised Rhodes’ game last weekend, they also admitted he’d like to rework two games – the touchdown he gave up and a critical pass interference call.
Yes, Rhodes understands that it’s not personal.
Plus, he has a job to do too, and he may be providing vital information to his new teammates and coaches about his old team’s tendencies, people, and preferences – one the Colts only see every four years.
It’s just a business.
And if Rhodes and Thielen get another chance to compete against each other, it promises to be just as competitive as in practice over the years – and a matchup that is worth seeing.
“He knows me as much as I know him, so it is definitely another challenge because he knows what I like to do, how I like to drive routes, how I do certain things and vice versa,” said Thielen. “So it’s a challenge, that’s for sure. But that’s exactly how this league works. You’ll find out in no time and go against who you have to go. “
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell also contributed to this report.
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