Notebook: Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes slowly adapting to NFL speed
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes watched February's Super Bowl featuring the San Francisco 49ers, who he'll lineup against for his most daunting test on Sunday.
That's not on Rhodes mind, though, as he prepares for his second NFL game with a little more than two weeks before he'll likely debut as the starting cornerback in the Vikings' often-used nickel formation on Sept. 8 at the Detroit Lions.
"To be honest, I always set my goal to be in the NFL," Rhodes said. "I was just worried about getting here."
For now, he'll have to worry about quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led his 49ers to the Super Bowl as he executed the read-option offense to confuse opposing secondaries as to whether he'll throw or run.
Rhodes said the Vikings game plan is to stick to receivers and not be tempted to be the hero by going after Kaepernick if, or when, he breaks free.
"I still need to work. I'm learning as time goes. My technique, that's the groundwork for anything, to any position," Rhodes said. "With [Kaepernick], the receiver can run one route and he will come out and you think he's tackled, but the receiver is going to run another route and will be wide open."
Rhodes, 23, debuted at the Buffalo Bills on Friday, where he had a couple of tackles, one missed tackle and a pass deflection that led to safety Jamarca Sanford's interception.
"Kind of up and down," Coach Leslie Frazier said about Rhodes' performance. "That was his first chance to get some live action, to get a feel of the speed of the game in a game situation."
After looking at the game film of Friday's preseason match at the Buffalo Bills, rookie punter Jeff Locke got rave reviews from special teams coach Mike Priefer on Wednesday.
Locke punted seven times for an inept offense and made the lives of his defensive and coverage units easier by nailing long hang times and pinning the Bills inside the five-yard line twice.
"He had seven punts the other day and only had one minus punt," Priefer said. "But Jeff improved a lot from game one to game two. Obviously his plus-50 punts he already proved he could do and his Aussie style punts as well. But his field punts were much improved the other day."
Aussie style punting is an end-over-end technique as opposed to a spiraling punt, like the one used by former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.
Locke utilizes both forms of punting, but has a tool Kluwe didn't in adding a back spin to the ball, which adds a longer hang time and bounces the ball back towards the coverage unit -- which is advantageous when pinning opponents near the goal line.
"A lot of the young guys are doing it because it is easier to control," Priefer said. "It is easier to get that better bounce."
In and out
Left tackle Matt Kalil returned to practice on Wednesday after sitting out Sunday and Monday with a sore knee.
Frazier said he expects Kalil, who took part in an unstable offensive line performance on Friday, to play Sunday when the team travels to San Francisco.
"We don't anticipate [Kalil] not playing," Frazier said. "Offensive line, our first group, they did some good things in that ball game [on Friday] but there are some things that we could get better at, especially when we're going to be on the road like we are in the opening game of the season."
Receiver Jarius Wright (concussion) sat out Wedneday's practice, but watched from the sidelines with coaches and teammates. Frazier said he expects Wright to return on Thursday. After missing most of the week, it is unlikely Wright sees the field on Sunday, especially in light of his concusion.
Guard Tyler Holmes sat out Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury. Holmes was carted off the field on Monday for what Frazier said were heat-related complications.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who had knee surgery on Monday, was not at practice. Fullback Jerome Felton (appendectomy) and defensive tackle Christian Ballard (away indefinitely) were also not present.
•Quarterback Christian Ponder flexed the deep pass in Wednesday's practice, connecting with receiver Chris Summers down the sidelines over safety Harrison Smith for a touchdown. Ponder also hit receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in stride as he ran past cornerback A.J. Jefferson down the middle of the field for a score.
•Rookie fullback Zach Line has taken snaps with the first-team offense as Felton remains sidelined from an appendectomy.
•Even though linebacker Desmond Bishop is said to get first-team reps on Sunday, the coaching staff still has him working behind linebacker Marvin Mitchell in practice.
Frazier said he's talked to his linebackers and let them know they'll have to forfeit some reps for Bishop on Sunday.
Frazier: "They know that we want to get some views of Desmond with the first group; they understand that, they understand why. So no spite against them."