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Zimmer: Xavier Rhodes Improved 'Off Coverage' this Offseason

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The "All Rhodes are Closed" slogan is more than just a play on words for cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

It's a broad philosophy that is based on refining and mastering details.

Now heading into his fourth NFL season, Rhodes makes it a daily goal to continue improving in the Vikings secondary. When he hits the field on game day, Rhodes plans to shut down the opposing team's receiver.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who has extensive experience coaching defensive backs, saw potential in Rhodes when Zimmer arrived in 2014. Zimmer has seen more than that from Rhodes during the Vikings offseason program.

"Xavier has had probably his best spring since I've been here," Zimmer told "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen in a 9 to Noon segment last week.

Zimmer explained that the cornerback position is a highly technical one, and he wants to see his players excel both at bump-and-run and at off coverage, when the cornerback lines up a few yards from the receiver. Rhodes' physicality has always helped him execute well in a press coverage that often implements bump-and-run, but Zimmer said Rhodes has improved greatly in his off-coverage technique.

"The two most important things about off coverage are the speed of the receiver, which tells you when to turn, and the release of the receiver, which tells you which way to turn," Zimmer told Allen. "Those are all little technical things that these guys have to know. A lot of it is about timing when you're in off coverage."

Rhodes said technique has been a major focus of his this offseason, and he's seeing it pay off.

"I'm just working on the down and distance and concept routes," Rhodes said. "Understanding where they're going to run in different downs and distances, wide receiver splits and quarterback reads – just every little detail I need to know to play [off-coverage]. It's been really helping me so far."

Rhodes has made strides with each season in the league. In 2015, Rhodes started all 16 games for the second consecutive season. He recorded a career-high 68 tackles (55 solo), 13 passes defensed and snagged his second career interception when picking off Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay in the NFC North division-clinching win. Now entering the 2016 season, and third under Zimmer, it seems Rhodes has turned yet another corner.

"I feel like sometimes with Xavier in the past, like when we come in for the offseason, it would be starting over again, and this year he's not like that," Zimmer said following day one of mandatory minicamp Tuesday. "He's back into [it] – we didn't have to go back and read through everything. Some of the more intricate things, he was able to do while he's been here this spring. I think he can be a really good cornerback."

Zimmer said Rhodes has all the makings of a talented defensive back in the NFL: length, speed, agility and toughness. And as Rhodes develops his skillset, his confidence grows right along with it.

"Sometimes Xav' is his own worst enemy, and he will get down on himself a little bit," Zimmer said. "But I think he feels confident about what he's done this spring."

While Zimmer said bump-and-run is his favorite coverage to coach, the non-contact practices during OTAs and minicamp have given him a chance to see Rhodes' progress in off-coverage.

"He's improved a lot," Zimmer said. "And we're going to have to get back and work on bump-and-run when we get back [for training camp]."

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