Updated: August 13th, 2013 12:48pm
Vikings rookie Xavier Rhodes healthy, ready to start 'growing pains'

Vikings rookie Xavier Rhodes healthy, ready to start 'growing pains'

by Andrew Krammer
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said he's never had a hamstring injury in his football career.

There's a first for everything, including when Rhodes takes the field for his NFL debut on Friday at the Buffalo Bills.

"I don't try to stress it at all," Rhodes told 1500ESPN.com on Tuesday. "When you stress it, that's when you tend to have mistakes. I'm going to have it in the back of my mind, this is my first NFL game, and I'm going to be very excited."

Rhodes missed out on the Vikings preseason opener against the Houston Texans on Friday with a hamstring pull that both Rhodes and coach Leslie Frazier said is healed up.

"No tightness, no injury," Rhodes said.

You shouldn't overanalyze preseason games, especially the first one, but the Vikings need all the help they can get at cornerback -- especially after allowing more than 300 yards passing to the Texans with Rhodes and fellow cornerbacks A.J. Jefferson and Jacob Lacey sitting out.

Friday is a critical time for Rhodes to return with the clock winding down to the regular season.

"No question about it. That's how we're looking at it," Frazier said. "That's why it's good [Rhodes] is healthy now. We have to keep throwing things at him. There's going to be some growing pains, just the way it is in our league, at that position especially."

"We have to expose them to a lot, because when we line up in September, nobody is going to feel sorry for the fact that this is there first time starting in their positions."

By experience alone, the leader of the cornerbacks is Chris Cook -- a guy with zero interceptions and has only started in 18 games across three seasons.

"It's not like we can turn to some singular player in our secondary and say 'hey, until Xavier [Rhodes] gets ready, or until Chris [Cook] can say he's a consistent guy for 16 games, you can play, or until Josh [Robinson] is ready, you're going to take over," Frazier said. "We don't have that kind of veteran experience back there, especially at corner."

After the exodus of cornerback Antoine Winfield this offseason, the looming question mark fell on Robinson, who has been designated as Winfield's replacement at nickel cornerback, a formation the defense uses nearly half the time.

Robinson, in his second year, moved from outside to slot corner, which opened up another hole -- one that has to be plugged with more inexperience.

As of right now, Rhodes is the No. 3 corner behind Cook and Robinson, who start in the base formation.

"If you had your druthers, you'd like to have them grow into the position," Frazier said. "But that's not the case, we're one of those teams that's going to play young guys at key positions and the secondary -- that's one of those positions that's key to our success on defense."

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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