JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes and Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey were nearly college teammates at Florida State. They would have made a formidable combination.
Rhodes and Ramsey have since emerged as two of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL, lock-down defenders in a league that puts a premium on slowing down high-powered passing games.
They’ll be on the same field for the first time Sunday when the Jaguars (2-10), who have lost seven in a row, host the Vikings (6-6), who have dropped six of seven following a 5-0 start. Because both offenses have been mostly unwatchable this season, the defenses have been forced to carry the load.
Rhodes and Ramsey certainly have done their part.
”As far as willingness to get physical, willingness to tackle, wanting to travel with No. 1 receivers each week, competitiveness, trying to lead by example and things like that, I see similarities between us,” said Ramsey, who enrolled at FSU about six months after Rhodes left school early for the NFL draft.
A fourth-year pro, Rhodes has four interceptions and 11 passes defended this season. He was at his best against Arizona’s Carson Palmer three weeks ago, when he intercepted two passes and returned one 100 yards for a touchdown that turned out to be the difference.
The 6-foot-2 Rhodes surely will be matched against former Pro Bowler Allen Robinson, who is looking to return to form after three consecutive disappointing outings.
”I think his recall is his biggest thing,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who is expected to return Sunday after missing last week’s game following eye surgery. ”Sometimes a year ago, every day was a new day. And this year, he gets back to doing things correctly all the time.”
The Jaguars can say the same about the 6-foot-2 Ramsey, the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Although Ramsey is still looking for his first pick, he’s made an impact in every game.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey has held receivers to 50 yards or less in eight of 12 games. He’s been tasked with shadowing five No. 1 receivers – Baltimore’s Steve Smith, Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton, Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery, Oakland’s Amari Cooper and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins – and only Hilton topped 75 yards.
Ramsey will get another test Sunday against Stefon Diggs, who has 75 receptions for 805 yards and two touchdowns. Ramsey and Diggs (Maryland) squared off once in college, a 63-0 victory for the Seminoles in 2013.
”I like his game, respect his game a lot,” Ramsey said. ”Always have, even in college when I got to play him a time or two. I think he’s very dynamic, lines up in different places for them. He gets a lot of targets each game, so that tells me a lot about how the coaches feel about him and how his quarterback feels about him. I’m looking forward to it, of course.”
Here are some other things to know about the Vikings and Jaguars:
HONORING SMITH: Jacksonville’s all-time leading receiver, Jimmy Smith, will be inducted into the franchise’s ring of honor at halftime. It’s also the team’s annual alumni weekend, and more than 60 former players will be on hand for Smith’s ceremony. Smith will join offensive tackle Tony Boselli (2006), former owners Wayne and Delores Weaver (2012), running back Fred Taylor (2012) and quarterback Mark Brunell (2013) in the Pride of the Jaguars. The 47-year-old Smith, whose life has been defined as much by drug addiction as football production, caught 862 passes for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns in 12 seasons.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Vikings are two games behind Detroit in the NFC North and would lose a tiebreaker to the Lions, who swept the season series. Minnesota’s 4-6 record in NFC games also would hurt in wild-card scenarios, and another loss would be devastating. ”We’ve got ourselves in a pickle now, and if you want to go to the playoffs, you’re going to have to win out,” guard Alex Boone said. ”You’re going to need help from some other teams, which I hate doing because I feel like the more you count on other teams to kind of help you, the more they want to screw you.”
VIKINGS FAN: Jaguars coach Gus Bradley grew up in Minnesota as a huge Vikings fan. His favorite player? Running back Chuck Foreman. ”At that time, they were really successful,” Bradley said. ”You rallied around them. That part of it is still there. My family is still all back there. When they’re not rooting for us, they are Vikings fans.”
MAVERICKS MEET: Vikings receiver Adam Thielen and Jaguars guard Chris Reed were teammates at Minnesota State in Mankato, where the Vikings hold training camp. They’re the only two current NFL players from the NCAA Division II school. Thielen was a senior and Reed a sophomore on the Mavericks team that lost in the 2012 national semifinals.
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