EAGAN, Minn. - Expect some jockeying but maybe not so much jawing when Vikings receiver Adam Thielen and Colts cornerback Xavier Rhodes meet for the first time in a game.
After years of practicing against each other in offseason programs and Verizon Vikings Training Camps, there should be some direct matchups with Thielen and Rhodes in Indianapolis on Sunday.
Both players joined the Vikings in 2013. Thielen made the team as a tryout player, and Rhodes arrived as one of three first-round picks in that draft class. They helped each other become Pro Bowlers.
"Shoot, I can go back to day one in the Vikings organization at rookie camp [in 2013], going against him every single day. Pretty much from there on, looking at my practice squad year, going against him every day, and then moving forward in training camp and things like that," Thielen said. "Honestly, he's probably been a big part of who I am today because he's challenged me, he's pushed me, he's made things very difficult on me. That's what helps you become a better football player when you have a challenge like that, you're constantly having to perform your best and having to get better, so I give him honestly a lot of credit for helping me become the player I am today."
Thielen totaled six receptions for 110 yards and two scores on Sunday, continuing a string of impressive performances in four consecutive Week 1 games, despite Minnesota only possessing the ball for 18:44.
Including Sunday, Thielen has recorded 24 receptions for 412 yards and three scores in his past four Kickoff Weekend games. His past three Week 2 efforts also have been impressive: 22 receptions for 250 yards and a score.
Asked if he expects trash talk to occur with Rhodes, Thielen said, "Oh no, not at all."
"I'm excited to see him; he's a friend of mine and obviously was a fantastic teammate," Thielen said. "So, excited to see him. He knows me just like I know him, so it definitely creates another challenge because he knows what I like to do, how I like to run routes, how I do certain things, and vice versa. So it creates a challenge, that's for sure, but that's just how this league works. You figure it out on the fly and you go against who you gotta go against."
Rhodes, who was released in March, told Indianapolis media members this week that "It's all love" between him and the Vikings.
"I was there for seven years," Rhodes said. "It was a brotherhood when I was there, and it's still a brotherhood to this day. So it's going to be good going against those guys. When I was practicing against those guys when I was there, we were competing each and every play, so it's going to be the same right there on the field. But I'm going to be able to tackle them this time."
Rhodes was a huge part of the Vikings posting the NFL's No. 1 defense in 2017 on the way to a 13-3 mark and appearance in the NFC title game.
He's often "traveled" to follow the likes of Julio Jones, matching up with big threats. Thielen noted Rhodes' success in that role but also pointed out that Indianapolis might play more zone than Minnesota did.
"He's a physical corner that in the past has played some really good football," Thielen said. "He's got a lot of experience in this league, and he's shut down some guys that are big-name guys and have had a lot of success in this league. Yeah, be aware, because he's a great football player.
"They're playing more zone - but they do trust him just like we did here to play man when they need to and when they want to, and they trust him to do his job," Thielen said. "Definitely playing more zone, but that doesn't mean that he's not an elite man corner like he showed for so many years here."
Colts Head Coach Frank Reich said Wednesday that Rhodes has "brought some swag" to the defense.
"He's brought a physicality. You could tell in Week 1 even though we didn't play our best game as a team that Xavier, there were a handful of plays where physically he made his presence known, and that's really important in our defensive scheme," Reich said. "We just feel like he's a good 1-on-1 cover guy. He's long, he's experienced, he's savvy, he understands what offenses are trying to do. We had a few miscues last week, but we'll get those cleaned up. We expect Xavier to be a strong player for us."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said he has the "utmost respect for Xavier." Cousins has previously played against Rhodes when the QB was with Washington and shared an anecdote from January.
"He's done it for a long time, and we always asked a lot of him," Cousins said. "When we beat the Saints, I think he was the very first person to hug me in the playoff game, which says something about him as a teammate and a person, so it'll be strange seeing him in blue and white, but I have nothing but good things to say about him as a player and a person."
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