MAPLE GROVE, Minn. -- The interception Xavier Rhodes made during the Minnesota Vikings' organized team activity on Wednesday afternoon was, in a way, low-hanging fruit for a NFL defensive back; Matt Cassel had thrown a hitch route near the sideline, giving Rhodes ample time to diagnose the play and step in front of the ball, snatching the ball away with a clear path to the end zone.
It's a play Rhodes had made plenty in college, but there was something more to it at the NFL level -- some reason why it excited defensive backs coach Jerry Gray to the point where he yelled, "It's about time!" as Rhodes stepped in front of the pass.
Speaking about it a day later at the Vikings Children's Fund golf tournament on Thursday, Rhodes knew exactly what the difference was: He'd gotten to a point where he could trust himself enough to jump a throw from a NFL quarterback, confident he'd read the play correctly and would be able to beat the receiver to the ball. As effectively as Rhodes played press coverage late last season, he didn't come away with an interception as a rookie. He thinks he's got the instincts to change that now.
"You get to a point where you're at the top level, and you just don't trust yourself," Rhodes said. "You're going against someone as good as you. It's just a matter of time until you really trust and believe in yourself."
Rhodes is a better fit in the Vikings' new system, which will ask him to play more press man coverage, than he was in their old Cover 2 scheme. After getting eased into the Vikings' nickel package last year, he'll likely line up at right cornerback this season, and could turn out to be the team's top cover corner.
If he's learned when to break on passes and turn several of the nine pass breakups he had last year into interceptions, all the better.
"He has got great acceleration, he's learning the techniques much better, he's staying on point much better," coach Mike Zimmer said. "The thing I'm impressed with, the things that we talk about (that) he needs to improve, the next day he's working on it. We'll go in the meeting room here in a minute and we'll talk about the next process to where he is going, but I'm excited about him. He's doing well."