Rhodes-Brown matchup in Vikings-Steelers game is for Miami pride

Published 11:18 pm Friday, September 15, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE — Xavier Rhodes has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, the natural choice for the Minnesota Vikings to cover the opponent’s top wide receiver.

This weekend in Pittsburgh, Rhodes and the Vikings will have a particularly challenging matchup with Antonio Brown, the three-time first team All-Pro pick.

“He’s a big play waiting to happen,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

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He’s an especially familiar face for Rhodes, too. They’re both graduates of Norland High School in Miami, two grades apart, and occasional offseason training partners in their home city.

“He’s a busy man, I’m a busy man, but when we find time to work out, we do it,” Rhodes said.

Brown had 12 receptions for 88 yards, targeted 13 times, for the Steelers on Sept. 29, 2013, against the Vikings in London. Rhodes was the third cornerback as a rookie for that game, behind Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels, but he spent his share of time chasing Brown around the field. The Steelers move Brown back and forth to different spots in the formations often, but seeing Rhodes follow him is a sure bet on Sunday.

“Big guy, physical guy, 6-2, arms come past his knees,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a challenge this weekend, and I look forward to it.”

Brown is coming off his sixth career game with at least eight catches and 180 yards receiving in the season opener. The NFL record is seven such games.

“We’re really going to have to work diligently to make sure we handle the leverage and the coverage on him as they move him around,” Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said.

There’s more in play than simply a matchup of two of the elites at their position. There’s a sense of Miami pride, too. Neither player is considered a trash-talker. Rhodes described the assignment of covering Brown as a “brotherly type thing” more than a rivalry.

“We’re happy to be going against each other and proud of each other for making it this far and achieving what we’ve achieved,” Rhodes said.

Norland has four alums in the NFL, tied for the 11th-most in the league. Florida is the leading state. Miami is the most prolific city, with 25 products of its high schools currently in the NFL.

“To be able to accomplish that and be able to line up against each other and be labeled one of the best at each position, it’s a blessing to be able to do that,” Rhodes said. “I can tell from him and me, we’re both appreciative and thankful for it. We don’t take anything lightly.”