MINNEAPOLIS — When Xavier Rhodes was in his final season at Florida State in 2012, the scout team quarterback that fall was a redshirt with a big arm and bigger aspirations.
Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy the following year while leading the Seminoles to the national championship.
After one more season, he was off to the NFL as the first pick in the draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The success was hardly a surprise, born out of an innate self-assurance.
“He always wanted to race. He thought he was the fastest person on the team, knowing he was the slowest. He was competing in everything, thought he had the best hands, thought he could cover anyone,” said Rhodes, who’ll be defending Winston on Sunday with the Minnesota Vikings. “I’m like, ‘Bro, you’re just an all-around athlete, huh? Running a 4.8, huh?’”
No, speed is not part of Winston’s elite skillset. His official 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine in 2015 was 4.97 seconds .
Just about everything else is. With the Vikings uncertain this week about quarterback Sam Bradford’s status, having started Case Keenum at Pittsburgh because of an injury to Bradford’s left knee, the Buccaneers are clearly Winston’s team.
“Jameis is Jameis,” Rhodes said. “He’s confident in everything he does.”
Winston will face an accomplished defense in Minnesota, with the Pro Bowl cornerback Rhodes one of the standouts.
“His size and speed combination is amazing. But at the end of the day, just like at Florida State, we’re going to go out there and compete,” Winston said.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, a freshman in Winston’s final season with the Seminoles in 2014, recalled a certain read-option play where Winston would hand him the ball and then try to hustle in front to block for him.
“He’s just a guy who built up confidence. He carries himself like a leader, which he is,” Cook said.
Here are some other topics pertinent to the game on Sunday:
TAMPA BAY EQUALS TAKEAWAY: The Buccaneers forced four first-half turnovers and built a 26-0 lead at the break over the Bears last week.
Since the start of last season, their first with former Atlanta coach Mike Smith as defensive coordinator, the Bucs have 33 takeaways. That’s third in the NFL in that span behind Baltimore (38) and Kansas City (35).
“They are some savages, man,” wide receiver Mike Evans said. “I love our defense.”
DEFENSE NOT DOMINANT: The Vikings tied for seventh in the NFL last season with 27 forced turnovers, just two fewer than the Buccaneers, but they’ve gone two games without one this season. They’re also in the bottom third of the league so far in points and yards allowed. The biggest disappointment, however, has been penalties.
The defense has accounted for 10 of 21 infractions committed by the Vikings, with pass interference calls on Rhodes (22 yards) and Trae Waynes (49 yards) each extending a touchdown drive by the Steelers last week in a 26-9 defeat .
“Those things, they’re correctable,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined with our hands. We’ve got to be in a better position.”