Kyle Rudolph is feeling the relief of a healthy hamstring but little pressure with a big opportunity in front of him.
The Vikings' second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame was able to bury his serious hamstring injury in the past last Saturday with his first game action since last October, when the hamstring essentially ripped away from the bone.
"It was a huge relief, a great feeling of satisfaction to be out there again and to be healthy, to run around," Rudolph said. "The best thing was when I got off the field and went out with my family. They all were like, ‘You looked like your old self. You weren't out there hobbling. You were out there running around like we've seen you run around for your whole life.'"
Rudolph initially injured his hamstring in July 2010 while working out in preparation for his final season at Notre Dame, but he was determined to fight through the pain. His determination backfired. The tight end said he tore two of the three tendons that attach the hamstring to the bone – one tear was two centimeters from the bone and the other was three centimeters away, ending his final season with the Irish with seven games left.
"I just tried to do everything I could to be ready for Saturdays and looking back it probably wasn't the smartest decision on my part. But at the time I wanted to do everything I could to be on the field with my teammates. Looking back, if I could do it all over again, I'd probably shut it down because I was probably doing more harm to myself than helping the team."
Rudolph finished his college career playing in only 29 games, but he still ranks fourth all-time among Notre Dame tight ends with 90 receptions for 1,032 yards.
In his first pro game, albeit a preseason contest, he caught one pass for 10 yards, but he should be a big part of the Vikings offense this year. In these first two preseason games at least, Visanthe Shiancoe is out with a hamstring injury, giving Rudolph an even bigger opportunity to show his wares as a pass-catcher.
"I've got to take advantage of the extra reps, the extra opportunities I get out here on the practice field," Rudolph said. "Coming out of the first preseason game, it was an opportunity to go against somebody else for the first time in a long time for me. To be able to knock the rust off and pinpoint things that I need to work on, and then be able to come out here this week and have a good week of practice really meant a lot."
The Vikings had a first-round draft grade on Rudolph, but there were still some concerns about his hamstring from NFL teams by the time the draft rolled around. When he was still available at No. 43, the Vikings wasted little time. They knew he was a legitimate threat as a pass-catcher, but head coach Leslie Frazier says Rudolph has proven in just three weeks of practices that he can do more than that.
"I knew he had great hands and he was going to be able to have the ability to run after the catch, but he has shown a toughness that you really couldn't see his last year at Notre Dame because of his injury and his lack of playing time," Frazier said. "You know, we were concerned from a blocking standpoint, and believing it would take a little bit longer than we thought, but he has shown a toughness that we knew he had but not to the degree that he has. It really tells us that the blocking is going to come a lot sooner than later, so we were really excited about that.
"We always knew that part was going to be there, but that has really been eye-opening for us. Just to see how tough he is at the point of attack, not afraid to be a guy to go up against linebackers, plays with a lot of courage, he's not just a guy that can pass-catch."
Rudolph characterized his blocking skills as "very capable" and says he proved it with what he was asked to do in the preseason opener.
With the Vikings' three veteran tight ends – Jim Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan and Shiancoe – all in the final season of the contracts, there is good reason to believe Rudolph will be a staple of the offense for years to come. Add the fact that coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense calls for a lot of multiple-tight end sets and Rudolph's No. 82 jersey should be a consistent sight for fans throughout the foreseeable future.
For now, he's just happy he's back on the field and able to compete with healthy hamstrings.
"Just being back out there, catching live bullets, catching a ball for the first time and getting hit – stuff like that that you can't simulate in practice kind of reminds you," he said. "For me, it's been a while. It kind of reminds that you've done this your whole life, you can do this."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Rudolph happy with healthy hamstring
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