INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts cornerback Xavier Rhodes today spoke to local reporters via conference call. What did he have to say about his transition from more of a man-to-man approach to a zone scheme in Indy, his linebacker mentality at cornerback, which teammates have been instrumental for him so far and more?
You can catch the entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:
» Rhodes continues to embrace the challenge of playing more zone defense looks with the Colts compared to his mostly man-to-man background: Rhodes mostly played in a man-to-man scheme his first seven NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but now with the Colts and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, that focus shifts more to a zone defense emphasis, in which the members of the secondary can have their eyes on the quarterback much more frequently throughout a given play.
A three-time Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro selection in 2017, Rhodes certainly has the talent to play either scheme effectively, but he's putting in extra work behind the scenes to make sure by the time the regular season rolls around that he's on top of his game in this new secondary.
"Every defensive coordinator, every defensive coach, is pretty different, and they always leave it up to the player to work at it and get to used to it and learn the new techniques," Rhodes said. "You won't learn everything within a day. You gotta go home and keep focusing and looking at the techniques and looking over your notes, and that's how eventually you get better at it."
» Rhodes expects to be all over the field making plays, and not just in coverage: Another hallmark of Eberflus' defensive principles is the fact he expects every single one of his cornerbacks to not only play solid in coverage, but also be extremely physical, willing tacklers.
Rhodes, at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds is a big-bodied cornerback who has no problem doing just that.
In fact, even in a more man-to-man scheme with the Vikings, Rhodes has averaged more than 53 tackles per season in his career, including a career-high 63 last year, a total that also included a career-best-tying five tackles for loss.
"I mean, my play is physical, so I'm not only going to cover in a physical way, but I'm also gonna tackle in a physical way," Rhodes said. "And the defensive schemes I've been playing, and especially this one and the one I did before, corners had to tackle."
Rhodes said he's essentially taking the approach that other than when he's in coverage, he's another linebacker on the field.
"We have to become linebackers," Rhodes said. "There's gonna be times you're going to see me in the box here. So there's going to be a time where I'm gonna have to be physical and play as a linebacker or come down and set the edge to the run."
» Rhodes has leaned on new teammates like Anthony Walker and Rock Ya-Sin to give him a leg up heading into training camp: Playing for a completely new team after spending the first seven years of your career elsewhere can be tough enough, but throw on top of that the fact the COVID-19 pandemic led to a completely virtual offseason program, and no one would blame a newcomer like Rhodes if his head was spinning a little bit by this point.
But he credits Walker, whom he trained with in Florida this offseason, with getting him in the right frame of mind and giving him some pointers about what Eberflus expects out of his defenders once actual practices begin.
"He was teaching me the little details of the defense — what I need to look out for in certain formations, certain motions, and what checks the coaches love, what the defensive coaches like to be in in certain down and distances," Rhodes said of Walker. "So he was teaching me all the details of the things I needed to know, so once I get here, it can be an easy, smooth transition for me."
The second-year corner Ya-Sin has also been a major point of reference for Rhodes as the two work through the various techniques of the position.
"There's a lot of energy — there's a lot of anxiety and everything — just learning a new system," Rhodes said of joining a new team. "It brings a lot of camaraderie, a lot of teamwork, because not only are you learning the new system, then your teammates come and teach you the things and the technique you need to know.
"And by that happening, we're coming together to help one; by helping one, we're helping all so we can all be on the same page," Rhodes continued. "That's one thing I love about it: those guys coming and helping me out, understanding the defense, how they want it to be ran. So I'm coming into their defense and learning the things they've already learned previously."
See the best images of free agent cornerback Xavier Rhodes as he signs with the Indianapolis Colts.