With another dangerous quarterback opposing the Minnesota Vikings this week, the helmet on cornerback Xavier Rhodes in practice Wednesday was a welcomed sight.
The performance by his replacement in the last game against New Orleans was equally encouraging.
While Rhodes watched the Vikings lose to the Saints in sweats from the sideline with a foot injury, rookie Holton Hill took over at right cornerback and helped hold Drew Brees to 120 passing yards, his lowest total in a full game since arriving in New Orleans in 2006.
Granted, Brees completed 18 of 23 attempts. The Saints put up 30 points. Their three-score lead in the fourth quarter dictated a run-heavy strategy down the stretch. Still, had the savvy 39-year-old Brees seen more of a vulnerability in Hill, it’s a given he would have attacked him more than he did.
”Holton played great,” Rhodes said.
Hill was credited with five solo tackles and one pass breakup.
”Things have slowed down like quite a bit,” said Hill, who was undrafted out of Texas due to character concerns following a suspension for violating team rules that cut short his final season with the Longhorns. He later told NFL Network he sought treatment for marijuana use.
The Vikings pursued Hill aggressively after the draft despite their then-solid depth at cornerback, giving out one of the biggest signing bonuses in the league to a rookie free agent. That decision has proved prescient following the retirement of Terence Newman and then the recent injury to Rhodes.
”I don’t take that for granted. I cherish every rep, every second I’m out there,” Hill said.
Hill praised Rhodes for advising him on technique and noting wide receiver splits from the sideline throughout the game against the Saints, but the most important message he received from his mentor was to simply play with confidence.
”Once you have that, there’s like no stopping you,” Hill said. ”Basically the only person that can stop you is you.”
Rhodes, who was listed as a limited participant in practice Wednesday, was bummed about missing a prime-time game against the Saints.
”I’m here to play football, and not being out there to play football is pretty frustrating,” Rhodes said.
With continued improvement this week, Rhodes ought to be able to return Sunday to face Detroit. Matthew Stafford and the Lions have beaten the Vikings in six of the 10 matchups since Rhodes arrived as a rookie in 2013.
”You never can count him out,” Rhodes said. ”He’s accurate with his throws. He trusts and believes in his receivers. He throws the ball up and lets them get it. He scrambles. If the receiver’s not open, he finds a way to gain yards instead of lose yards. He’s just a good all-around quarterback.”
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