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Vikings Players Enjoy Mixing It Up with NFC at Pro Bowl Practice

ORLANDO –On his first trip to the Pro Bowl, Xavier Rhodes didn't waste any time reuniting with some of the players he competed against during the regular season.

During the first two NFC team practices on Wednesday and Thursday, Rhodes had fun once again matching up against guys like Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.

"I'm happy to go up against all of them," Rhodes said. "It's just pretty fun to go against those guys. I'm looking forward for the game to come to go against the other side."

Rhodes said it's easy to get into some good-natured ribbing when crossing paths with recent opponents, but he added that it's an equally smooth transition to friendly territory as they share jersey colors for a week.

"We talk a little bit here and there about the season, and how some people got bombed and some people got jammed up," Rhodes said with a smile. "There was a lot of trash talking once we got here, but we started talking to one another, we started talking about what we were going to do during the game [on Sunday] and a lot of other things."

Rhodes also enjoyed sharing the defensive backfield with teammate Harrison Smith, who most enjoyed facing off against Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham during practice.

"It's fun mixing it up with players from around the league, guys that you watch every week, play against every week," Smith said. "[Graham's] been a premier tight end in this league for a long time, so playing against him and now playing with him – it's always fun playing against the best."

Smith, who is participating in his second consecutive Pro Bowl, said he offered some advice for Rhodes as a first-timer in the all-star game.

"Xavier, playing corner, we're kind of thin at corner down here," Smith quipped. "I basically just told him to be ready to run all day."

The Vikings this year had six players receive Pro Bowl invites. While Smith, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr appeared in last year's game in Hawaii, they were joined this time around by Rhodes, Linval Joseph and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Griffen said he was "counting his blessings" to experience this year's Pro Bowl with five of his teammates. He shared plenty of laughs over the first two days with fellow defensive lineman Joseph, who will be making his Pro Bowl debut in Sunday's game.

"Linval's enjoying it," Griffen said with a smile. "He's like a big kid right now."

While the atmosphere in Orlando is laid back and gives players across teams the chance to spend more casual time together, Griffen and Joseph also looked to learn from their temporary teammates.

"The d-linemen – Fletcher Cox, Von Miller, guys like that where you can learn from them and build your craft," Griffen said. "See what they're thinking and see what you can put into your game."

Barr also considers it a privilege and opportunity to play alongside such talented athletes, even if it did mean losing a little more sleep.

The linebacker was just returning to the States from a promotional trip to London with Smith and Eric Kendricks when he received the invite. Barr was preparing to board his plane back home to California when Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman called to tell him he had been added to the Pro Bowl roster.

"I was like, 'Man, are you serious?' " Barr said. "But you're always glad to get that call.

"It's always an honor to be here with some of the greatest athletes," he added. "You can never take an opportunity like this for granted."

As the Vikings prepare for Sunday's matchup against the AFC squad, they're proud of the way Minnesota will be represented.

Smith said having five teammates alongside him is a testament to the team they've built, but he's always one to shoot higher and said it would have been nice to have an even larger presence. Rhodes added that it reflected the effort given all season despite falling short of the postseason.

"It just showed that we worked hard as a team, we did good as a team, we did what we could," Rhodes said. "The guys here, we're just trying to show off and make our team look good."

It may be just the Pro Bowl, but the Vikings competitive spirit is cropping up in preparation for the game. Rhodes' hot take was "about five" interceptions for himself, and he said there's no question which team will come out on top.

"We're going to win," Rhodes said. "That's the prediction. We're winning."

And Smith offered up a prediction of his own:

"Linval doesn't need any advice – he's my candidate for MVP right now. He's going to go harder than everybody else."

View images of the Vikings and Vikings fans from day 1 of the 2017 Pro Bowl.

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