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Updated: April 26th, 2013 9:36pm
Notebook: Xavier Rhodes could allow Vikings to 'be more aggressive'

Notebook: Xavier Rhodes could allow Vikings to 'be more aggressive'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Secondary coach Joe Woods doesn't call the shots for the Minnesota Vikings' defense. That's coordinator Alan Williams' job, with input from coach Leslie Frazier.

But Woods' core philosophy is to keep opponents guessing, avoid predictability and make quarterbacks work -- which probably explains why he ran into the draft room to high-five Frazier after the Vikings drafted Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes 25th overall on Thursday.

"What happens with these guys that we have now," Woods said, "not only (Chris) Cook, Xavier, but you have A.J. Jefferson, you have Josh Robinson, we have safeties that can cover. Now you feel a little bit better about being a little more aggressive based on the situation."

The Vikings' base scheme is a Tampa-2 derivative heavy on zone coverage. But they mix in their share of man looks, particularly on third downs, and Rhodes profiles as a press-man corner who's at his best getting his hands on receivers at the line and supporting against the run.

General manager Rick Spielman reiterated on Friday that Rhodes' size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), like that of Cook (6-2, 212), is something the Vikings had been targeting to match up with the big receivers they'll see six times a year in the NFC North Division.

"A lot of people have been telling me I'll be going against Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall and all them, but I'm not really worrying about those guys right now," Rhodes said.

"Right now, I'm worrying about getting to know the defense, getting to know my teammates and also just getting to know the playbook, embrace the playbook so I can be a better person and be a better Viking and help my team out."

Dressed in a slim gray suit and thick-framed glasses for his introductory media conference, along with fellow first-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Cordarrelle Patterson, Rhodes played up his willingness to play physical -- "Receivers don't like to get touched," he said -- which dates to his days playing offense at Norland High School in Miami.

"I was always a player looking for contact when I was at receiver," Rhodes said. "That's why they moved me to running back to be honest, because I always wanted to run somebody over."

The Vikings interviewed him at the combine, and Williams attended his campus workout in Tallahassee. When Woods made a highlight tape of the draft's top 10 cornerbacks, breaking down five or six games from each player, it quickly became obvious Rhodes was "a natural fit" for the scheme and he emerged with one of the highest grades.

"You can't really sit there and say we want to play Cover-2 the whole game," Woods said. "You can't sit there and say you want to play man. It has to be a mixture, because any team that you play, if you have a tendency, they're going to try to take advantage of it.

"We try to pride ourselves on playing different coverages, mixing in disguises. But now, we can mix in a little bit more man, a little more pressure. That's just a general feel. We'll talk about that in the offseason and see what happens."

No hard feelings

There is no early favorite for the nickel slot vacated by Antoine Winfield's surprise release on March 12, Woods said. But it stands to reason Josh Robinson, a third-round draft pick last year, figures to get every chance to win the job if Rhodes ends up starting opposite Cook outside.

Woods acknowledged he stayed in touch with Winfield while the Vikings made a strong push to re-sign the 14-year veteran, making sure their final offer beat the one-year pact with just $1 million guaranteed he agreed to with the Seattle Seahawks on April 12.

"He fully understands that this is a business," Woods said. "He knew going into his 15th year, getting older, that there was always a possibility. So, I think he was ready for it. Probably still a little bit shocking to him.

"The biggest thing I wanted for him is for him to make a decision based on where he wanted the end of his career to go. I didn't try to pressure him and ask him to come back to Minnesota. I said, 'Hey, man, I support you either way.'"

Aim high

The Vikings drafted Patterson at No. 29 after trading back into the first round with New England, which received their picks in the second (52nd overall), third (83rd), fourth (102nd) and seventh (229th) rounds.

According to Spielman, the Vikings' intention was to trade up higher into Round 2 in an attempt to land Patterson, whom they had rated along with West Virginia's Tavon Austin (drafted eighth overall by St. Louis) as the draft's two most explosive playmakers.

But while Spielman and Frazier were out of the room for media obligations, Vikings executives George Paton, Rob Brzezinski and Scott Studwell also called the teams at the bottom of Round 1 "because you never know what is going to happen," Spielman said.

"We didn't expect a team to not want to take a player at the bottom of the first round," Spielman added. "But New England didn't have a lot of picks in that third day and they were trying to add picks and we had more than enough picks to make a deal."

Spielman ended up being summoned back to the draft room by a Vikings media relations official, the deal was completed minutes later and Patterson was a Viking.

Five picks left

Spielman said the Vikings didn't place any calls about trading back into the draft on Friday and he'd prefer to "sit tight" with their five picks on Saturday: one each in the fourth (120th), fifth (155th) and sixth rounds (189th), plus two in the seventh (213th and 214th).

"I would like to keep all our picks, unless there's something that's so bizarre that you can't not do something," Spielman said. "And I don't want to touch our picks next year. We have four picks in the first three rounds next year, and I want to make sure we keep those."

The Vikings still have more waiting to do. That fourth-round pick is the 23rd of the round.

"I think we're going to get a couple very good players (Saturday)," Spielman said. "We still, I think, have 22 picks to wait before we select."

Quick hits

• With the No. 52 pick from the Vikings on Friday, New England selected Southern Miss OLB Jamie Collins. Other players on the board at that time included Kansas State LB Arthur Brown, who went 56th to Baltimore, and California WR Keenan Allen, who went 76th to San Diego. At No. 83, the Patriots drafted Rutgers CB Logan Ryan.

• In an all-staff meeting on Friday, Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf announced they would be bringing the entire organization to London for the game against Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 at Wembley Stadium. "That was a big, big commitment from our ownership to reward all the people in the building," Spielman said. "Every department in this building works extremely hard."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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