The highlight film of Kyle Rudolph has been expanding as his rookie season has progressed, but he garnered a lot of national attention for his incredible acrobatic catch with his arms wrapped around the head of Denver safety Quinton Carter. The weekly highlight shows were littered with different angles of that incredible play, giving the rest of the country a glimpse into what Vikings coaches, players and fans have been seeing since the preseason.
While Rudolph's coming-out party has been a little slower than some fans would like to see, his talent has been on display since he signed with the Vikings following the lockout. It's one thing for fans to be impressed, but when your offensive coordinator – the guy who calls the plays – is impressed, you've got something. Mark down offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave as one who has been duly impressed.
"He's been making super catches since that first day in Mankato," Musgrave said. "He's had a terrific introductory year."
Percy Harvin, who popped his share of eyes when he arrived as a rookie in 2009, said the catch, while spectacular, has become pretty commonplace for Rudolph, earning the respect and admiration of his teammates.
"That catch he made, we've seen him make that in practice almost every other day," Harvin said. "He's just big and if you put the ball in his area, he's going to go get it."
Rudolph said he takes the approach that all passes belong to him and not defenders and said, while the magnitude of the catch was bigger than anything he has caught in practice, it was taking that same mentality from the practice field to game day that made it work, as well as a growing list of incredible, improbable catches he has made this season.
"It was a good play, but during a game you don't really think about it," Rudolph said. "For me, the ball was in the air and I had to make a play to get us a touchdown in that situation. Whenever the ball is in the air, I just treat it as it's mine. Every opportunity I get, I try to take advantage of."
Rudolph has adjusted to the learning curve and speed of the NFL and he said the biggest aspect of his progress has been finding a comfort zone in the offense. He no longer feels like a rookie. He feels like he belongs and is itching to increase his role in the offense.
"I feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable," Rudolph said. "After 12 games, four preseason games, I feel as each week goes by I'm able to prepare better and make myself more comfortable on Sundays."
He isn't alone in believing he can play a bigger role for the Vikings offense. Harvin said he had been told Rudolph was a premier athlete, but seeing has truly been believing with the other receivers on the team.
"He's a freak athlete," Harvin said. "He's probably got one of the best (pair of) hands of as far as catching the ball as I've ever seen. He makes tremendous catches. He's big, strong and all the things you want in a skillful tight end. We have to find a way to get him on the field a little more and get him into the mix."
One of the concerns that the coaching staff may have had was that, like so many talented players before him, Rudolph would hit the fabled "rookie wall," where rookies tend to wear down in December due to the 20-game NFL schedule in the preseason and regular season. However, thanks to a couple of scheduling breaks, not only is Rudolph not hitting the rookie wall, he wants more.
"For us it's been kind of nice," Rudolph said. "We had a little bit of a break at the end of the preseason after we played Houston and got that weekend off, and having the bye right in the middle (of the season) it has kind of allowed things to be broken up for us. … We only have four weeks left and I can't believe we only have four weeks left. I feel like it's flown by."
At a time in the metamorphosis of the passing game in the NFL, where tight ends aren't simply blockers, but expected to be team leaders in receptions and touchdowns, Rudolph was asked if he wants to be the type of player that, if the Vikings can take advantage of mismatches, could catch eight or nine passes a game consistently.
"Definitely," Rudolph said. "That's my goal. It's been like that at every level. I go out every day to work to be the best. The more my role continues to grow, the more I'll embrace that. If that's getting nine catches a game, then it's getting nine catches a game."
While his rookie season has been a disappointment in the standings, Rudolph believes the Vikings have a bright future with young talent like Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson, Harvin and himself in place and under contract. He said the process of building will begin in the final four games of the season and hopefully will start providing the building blocks for the foundation of an up-and-coming offense.
"I feel great about it," Rudolph said about the situation the Vikings have faced and envision for the future. "We've got a ton of talent. This last month is important for us to go out there and generate some momentum going into this offseason."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Rudolph impresses teammates, coaches
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