EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –It's not difficult to quickly locate Xavier Rhodes during Organized Team Activity practices.
Rhodes can consistently be heard both on the field and on the sideline – whether celebrating after snagging an interception, good-naturedly challenging a receiver he's matching up against, offering shouts of encouragement or handing out advice to a younger teammate.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he appreciates Rhodes' incessant energy on the practice field.
"Xavier is the kid who never has a bad day," Zimmer said. "He is always going to be excited to be out here. He is always going to be happy to be able to play football and do the things that he can do."
A passion for football is nothing new for the cornerback, but the sideline-cheering, fist-bumping, teammate-ribbing Rhodes doesn't much resemble the soft-spoken rookie that entered the Winter Park locker room in 2013.
Rhodes has been a starter in Minnesota's defense since day one. But as he's developed and thrived on the field, coaches, teammates and fans alike have also seen more of his character bubble to the surface.
Receiver Stefon Diggs, in his third year of taking reps against Rhodes in practice, said he's recognized the transformation.
"When I first got here, 'Zay' didn't do a lot of talking, really, either," Diggs said. "Now he communicates more, he'll talk to you, have a conversation with you. He's always been open to learning and a hard worker."
Added Diggs with a smile: "He's just showing you a little personality. He's had it, but he's just been hiding it."
In 2016, Rhodes nabbed a career-high five interceptions, including one he returned 100 yards for a touchdown against Arizona. He finished the season with 54 tackles (coaches' tally), 14 passes broken up and a forced fumble, and in January he received his first career Pro Bowl nod.
"I think that him having some success last year and being able to go to the Pro Bowl and some of those things, I think that has given him another boost of confidence," Zimmer said.
Entering his fifth season in Purple, Rhodes said it's not about simply having fun on the field.
The added chatter is more than just hype.
"I feel like I need to be heard," Rhodes said. "I think the guys are looking forward to seeing me talk, to be more vocal, to be more of a leader. I'm trying to take it on and get used to that role. So, I'm starting here in practice."
It seems that the quality has always been in Rhodes. Even as a teenager on the gridiron, his temperament stood out.
Torriano Brooks, Rhodes' coach at Miami Norland High School, said it's been rewarding to see Rhodes progressively break out of his shell.
"It was more his demeanor," Brooks recalled of what set Rhodes apart in high school. "The athletic ability was there, of course, but it was his demeanor – he was really a no-nonsense type of kid, and he had a mission in mind.
"When he was growing up, he was more to himself," Brooks later added. "Not a loner, but he was more to himself. He's more outgoing now, which is a good thing, and I love the way he interacts with his teammates, with the community. It's just been an overall great thing for him."
While being the vocal leader hasn't necessarily come naturally to Rhodes, it has become important to him to fill that role for his teammates, and especially the rest of the secondary, as he's worked his way into being a more experienced player.
"Yeah, it's been difficult for me. I've always been a quiet guy coming into practice and just doing what I need to do," Rhodes said. "I understand the role that I'm in now, and I'm trying to help the team the best way I can."
Zimmer values the way Rhodes has stepped up into a leadership role, in part because he knows the cornerback is a student of the game. As he has gained confidence in Zimmer's defense and how the team can be effective, he helps to further drive the head coach's message home.
"He is a guy that listens," Zimmer said. "He is one of those guys, that when you try to teach [them] some techniques and try to teach them how to play the game, and then they start having success doing those things, they feel good not only about the coaching, but [about the things they're being taught]."
Added Zimmer: "Hopefully he will be able to take the next step from there."