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Xavier Rhodes, Defense Impress On Tuesday

Posted Jul 31, 2013

Photos From Practice No. 4 >>

In the very early stages of 2013 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, it was the wide receivers who opened eyes and were the source of optimism. Over the past couple of days, the balance of power has become, well, more balance because the Vikings defense has stepped up to the plate.

The Vikings conducted their fourth practice of camp and their second day of padded practice on Tuesday in front of another healthy crowd and once again in mild temperatures and under cloudy skies. But nothing was mild about the action on the field. The intensity kicked up a notch for Tuesday’s practice, and while the offense had some shining moments and the quarterbacks continued to look solid, the defense had its day, as well. In fact, the defense’s performance included a young player doing something during a one-on-one drill that I can’t remember seeing previously – keep reading to find out who it was and what he did.

Here are a few notes regarding the Vikings defense from Tuesday’s practice…

-- The Vikings first team defense orchestrated an impressive stand during the live goal line period, forcing an incomplete pass from Christian Ponder on a 1st-down play-action pass and then stuffing consecutive rushing attempts on 2nd and 3rd down from inside the 2-yardline. On 2nd down, it was defensive tackles Christian Ballard and Letroy Guion who stonewalled running back Toby Gerhart and then on 3rd down Guion took matters into his own hands by sliding off a block and swallowing up the ball-carrier before any progress toward the goal line was made. There’s good and bad news in this for Vikings fans. Sure, you’d like to see the first team offense punch it in. But at the same time, Adrian Peterson (wisely) didn’t get a touch and this early in camp you somewhat expect the defense to have a bit more of an edge. The good news, though, is Guion put two consecutive disruptive plays on tape after the secondary remained disciplined on a 1st-down play-action fake throw while standing in the shadow of their own goal posts.

-- The second team offense scored a touchdown on their goal line try, as fullback Zach Line burrowed his way into the end zone on 3rd down. Second-year linebacker Audie Cole made a nice play on 2nd down, though, to stop running back Joe Banyard after a quick jump cut toward the goal line. Cole was not fooled and was quick enough to cover up Banyard before he could put forth a second effort to reach paydirt. The third team offense scored twice, the first on a rushing play despite a solid hit from rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges and the second coming on a McLeod Bethel-Thompson play-action toss to tight end Chase Ford in the back right corner of the end zone.

-- One of the more entertaining drills of the day was a one-on-one pass block/rush drill that featured the running backs and tight ends going against the linebackers and safeties. The offensive players are charged with lining up across a rushing defensive player and doing whatever it takes to keep the defender from reaching an orange cone that is on the ground and represents the middle of the pocket. It’s a rapid fire drill that features too many reps to keep track of while also trying to live tweet, but I was able to notice a few standouts. Cole put a pair of swim moves on blockers to get home, displaying a nimbleness and craftiness that represents marked improvement for one of last year’s preseason standouts. Fellow linebacker Michael Mauti, the seventh-round rookie coming back from a third knee surgery, also displayed some encouraging explosiveness as he used a pair of outside-to-inside pass rush moves to get home. It was fun to watch Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway square off twice, with the MVP winning round one and Greenway taking the cake in round two. Linebackers Erin Henderson and Tyrone McKenzie each recorded two wins, Banyard battled Larry Dean well a couple times, running back Matt Asiata repelled Cole, and tight end Rhett Ellison covered up safety Andrew Sendejo.

Xavier Rhodes

-- The never-before-seen, at least by yours truly, incident referenced above was authored by rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes. In a one-on-one drill vs. receiver Stephen Burton, Rhodes approached the line of scrimmage and settled directly across from Burton in press coverage position. At the snap of the ball, Rhodes reached out with perfect hand technique and struck Burton in the chest, literally stopping Burton in his tracks and ending the play on the spot. There was no route, there was no pass, there was really no reaction by anyone other than the boisterous and always defensive teammate-supporting Jamarca Sanford, who let both Rhodes and Burton know what had just happened. Vikings fans should be excited to see more of that from their  first-round cornerback this season. Not to be embarrassed, though, Burton came back one snap later, got off the line, worked his way open and made a reception despite Rhodes draping himself all over him and drawing a pass interference flag from the official. You always like to see a player come back like that and display some pride and competitiveness. It’s not surprise to see that from Burton, either, as he’s a former seventh-round choice from 2011 who is still on the roster.

-- The best play of the day was registered in tandem by cornerback AJ Jefferson and safety Robert Blanton. On the play, quarterback Matt Cassel launched a pass deep down the left seam to early-camp standout Jarius Wright. Jefferson had a beat on the pass and leaped to deflect it out of Wright’s reach and seemingly toward the open field for an incompletion. But Blanton, in his second season out of Notre Dame, stuck with the play and was able to dive underneath the batted ball to secure the interception, get up off the ground and sprint down the right sideline to finish the play.