MINNEAPOLIS — When the Minnesota Vikings reconvened for a light practice following their bye week on Monday and broke into position drills, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray had a present for Xavier Rhodes.
“Now you can’t grab,” Gray told Rhodes, as teammate Captain Munnerlynhelped the third-year corner put the mitts on. Then, as Rhodes playfully feinted and popped Munnerlyn with a right cross, the veteran defensive back yelled, “Hey, man!” as he dropped to the ground.
The gloves were a teaching tool for Rhodes, who’s tied with teammate Everson Griffen for second in the league with seven penalties this season and was fined $17,363 for a horse-collar tackle during a three-penalty day in Denver on Oct. 4. The Vikings want their 2013 first-round pick to be physical with receivers, and they trust him in coverage enough to have him shadow top targets like Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. But there’s a fine line between proper press technique and penalties; an open hand on a receiver will often get flagged, while a closed hand is permissible.
“It’s really just a point of emphasis of keeping an open hand,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We’re trying to fix everything that we can. Just a point of emphasis.”
Rhodes wore the gloves during position drills, jamming rookie Trae Waynes as Waynes played the role of receiver. At one point, Gray had to remind him that the gloves still meant he could put his hand on a receiver, as long as he didn’t grab him.
The drill could resurface at some point with Waynes, once he gets more playing time; the rookie thrived in press coverage in college, but had to refine his technique once he got called for several penalties in the preseason. In general, it’s a way to help young corners master one of the trickiest parts of playing corner in the NFL; slowing down imposing receivers under the watchful eye of referees instructed to give little leeway for contact downfield.
“I’ve heard of that technique before; putting boxing gloves on, and make a guy just cover with his feet and his eyes. I think it’s actually a good thing for him,” Munnerlyn said. “We know he’s a very physical guy — it shows. With seven penalties on the year, we’re just trying to get it down, and help him get it down. We’re just trying to go out there and be teammates. We want to laugh and joke with him, let him know it’s not a thing that coach is insulting you on, or anything like that. We’re just trying to get you better.”