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Updated: August 6th, 2014 5:58pm
Notebook: Zimmer finding right 'buttons to push' with Xavier Rhodes

Notebook: Zimmer finding right 'buttons to push' with Xavier Rhodes

by Andrew Krammer
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Christian Ponder uncorked a deep ball down the middle on a route guarded by Xavier Rhodes during Wednesday's training camp practice.

The ball fell incomplete, but Vikings coach Mike Zimmer could be heard from the sideline sternly instructing the second-year cornerback.

Zimmer let the Vikings practice without pads leading up to Friday's preseason opener. Though his orders could be heard from the media gallery, Zimmer says he's lightened up a little bit with Rhodes.

"I have changed a little bit how I have approached trying to teach [Rhodes]," Zimmer said. "I am a little bit softer, I guess. The way I handle it and just see how that goes and he seems to be doing good that way. It's about every player you try to figure out what buttons to push." 

Rhodes, 24, is expected to contribute in a major way for a defense that allowed 37 touchdown passes last season. The Vikings added free agent signings Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox, but Rhodes is pegged as the starting right corner in a defensive scheme that figures to play to more of his strengths. 

Rhodes set the team's rookie record last year with 23 pass deflections, toppling the old mark of 19 in just 13 games. He thrives with his physicality, which, in part, led to his team-high four pass interference penalties a season ago. 

So far, Zimmer has seen improvement in Rhodes' ability to play off the line of scrimmage, where you can't rely on bump-and-run coverage.

"When he is playing off, that was one of his weaknesses early on," Zimmer said. "He has done that a lot better, he understand the coverages much better, he understands all the calls, the alignments of where he is supposed to be. The press technique we still have some work to do. He has great recovery speed, but he has improved in about every area." 

Even after Rhodes made a diving interception in Saturday's night practice, Zimmer called him out for being out of position. But Rhodes is fine with that. 

"As long as I made the play," Rhodes said. "That's all that matters." 

Give and take

Matt Cassel will be the starting quarterback for Friday's preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium to start off his 10th season in the NFL. 

While Cassel is the most veteran player on the offense (along with Joe Berger), Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner sometimes remind him they've got 50 years of combined coaching experience in the NFL. 

"Sometimes you have to tell Matt, you have to remind him, that we've been doing this a long time even though he's been doing it a long time," Zimmer said. "Sometimes you have to do that. He's great about it. Say, 'Just throw the ball here and that's it. Do this or do that.'"

Though a practice field can be a tense, highly-charged environment, it's all give-and-take with the veteran quarterback. 

"Any time a conversation comes up, I'm very open to give my opinion about it and see what they say," Cassel said. "If I have an idea, I'm not fearful of the fact I can say that and Norv will be the first one to tell me to be quiet, or I like that a lot." 

Late hits

• Rookie Kendall James nabbed his first interception of training camp after running back Dominique Williams bobbled a Teddy Bridgewater pass into James' hands. 

• Charting passes on the day: Cassel completed 6-of-7 throws, Bridgewater threw 6-for-10 with the interception and Ponder completed 9-of-13 passes. 

• Second-year linebacker Gerald Hodges dropped a would-be pick from Bridgewater on his final throw of the day. Hodges instituted his own push-up penalty afterward. 

• During special teams drills, punter Jeff Locke looped a pass over Jabari Price and into the arms of Rodney Smith, who made an impressive grab down the sideline in simulating a fake punt. 

Josh Robinson (hamstring) participated in practice. Robert Blanton (hamstring) did not. Marcus Sherels also appeared to take some time off as he stood without a helmet on the sideline during team drills. 

• Safety Jamarca Sanford was the only one missing from practice. 

Andrew Krammer covers the Minnesota Vikings for 1500ESPN.com. He previously covered the Gophers men's basketball team for the Minnesota Daily.
Email Andrew | @andrew_krammer
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