EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –After missing two preseason games with a minor injury, Xavier Rhodes was thrilled to be back on the field this week in preparation for the season opener at Tennessee Sunday.
"Being [on the sideline] and seeing your guys battle without you, it hurts," Rhodes said. "It feels so good to be back out there and battle with the guys again.
"We're excited about this," he added. "Got camp over with, got preseason over with, just getting ready for the season and see how far we go."
Rhodes said it's been fun watching his rookie teammates preparing for their first regular-season NFL game, and it brings him back to his rookie year in 2013. Within the defensive back group, former Clemson teammates Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse are hyped for Week 1.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Rhodes said. "Not many people have the opportunity to be out here, be in that situation and play in the NFL, so those guys are pretty excited. They're ready to go out there and play."
In addition to reveling with first-year players, Rhodes has also come alongside another teammate, Teddy Bridgewater, who will not be playing. After the quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury, Rhodes said he's been intentional about staying positive and having fun with Bridgewater.
Know the Tennessee Titans key contributors on offense, defense and special teams heading into the Vikings-Titans game Sunday.
Earlier this week, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said that Rhodes often helps Bridgewater tie his shoes when he's in the locker room.
"I play around with him – sometimes I tie his shoes, sometimes I untie them," Rhodes said, laughing. "I mess around with him and keep his spirits up.
"Me and Teddy go way back," Rhodes added. "I love that man like a brother."
Although it feels odd to be taking the field against the Titans without Bridgewater in the huddle, Rhodes said the Vikings aspirations for the 2016 season haven't changed for either side of the ball.
"We just need to keep playing our defense," Rhodes said. "The goals stay the same – to go out there and stop, help the offense out with field position, get turnovers to help the offense out."
Creating turnovers has been a major focus of Minnesota's defense to improve this season. Rhodes has been homing in on the area throughout the offseason and said he has the mindset that once the ball is in the air, "you get there and just take it."
Rhodes has two interceptions in his time with the Vikings, but he hopes that number will increase in 2016. He said it's helpful to now be entering his fourth season – and third under Zimmer – because he feels so comfortable in the system.
"You know what to expect, you know the calls, you know who's going to be where and you just know the scheme," Rhodes said. "So now you can [focus on] other things rather than just worrying about what you have to do. Now you know this guy's going to be there, so if he throws it here, I can come from nowhere and make a play on the ball."
Game of adjustments:Vikings receivers have been adjusting to Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford after the Vikings lost Bridgewater, and so has the offensive line, particularly center Joe Berger, who has been making adjustments for every "hut, hut, hike."
"Everybody holds their hands different," said Berger, who signed a one-year extension with the Vikings Friday. "Every center probably puts the ball in a different spot, and quarterbacks have different sounds, so it's just getting used to that, but it takes practice. It's what we do."
Berger will work with Minnesota's quarterbacks to identify potential pressure and try to mitigate a bevy of blitzing by Tennessee. Berger said a good relationship between the quarterback and center "is crucial to pick up blitzes."
"[Protection] kind of falls on both of you. The center kind of sticks to the book a little bit and the quarterback has the freedom to change stuff up," Berger said. "At the end of the day, he's the boss, and you do what he says. Everything works better that way."
O-line overhaul eval:Aside from the obvious significant change of Bridgewater not being in the lineup at quarterback, the Vikings offensive line has undergone the most change this offseason. Alex Boone and Andre Smith were brought in during free agency and are projected to start at left guard and right tackle, respectively, and Brandon Fusco is moving back to the right side. The group has worked under the direction of Tony Sparano, who is in his first year as Vikings offensive line coach.
Zimmer said earlier this week that the unit is "much improved."
"You know Matt [Kalil] has … had a very good camp," Zimmer said. "I think Boone has added a lot. Fusco has looked much improved. Andre Smith has done a nice job in there and Berger as well. I think they're much improved, but you always want it to be better. It wouldn't matter if they were five All-Pros, but I think they're much improved."
Injury reports:The first injury report of the 2016 season was released Wednesday and remained largely unchanged Thursday and Friday.
For the Vikings: Nick Easton (ankle) and MyCole Pruitt (knee) did not participate for a third straight day and have been ruled out for Sunday's game. Jerick McKinnon (foot) Charles Johnson (quadriceps) and Rhett Ellison were limited Friday, and McKinnon and Johnson have been designated as questionable for Sunday's game. Matt Kalil (hip), Anthony Harris (shoulder) and Rhodes fully participated Friday.
For the Titans: Kendall Wright (hamstring) did not participate for a third straight day and has been ruled out.