Christian Ponder's favorite target is easily Percy Harvin, but when he needs a helping hand he's often found it with tight end Kyle Rudolph.
And what hands they are.
Rudolph's hands typically engulf any non-athlete shaking them. Although he has put his hands inside the imprints of Shaquille O'Neal's hands at Disney World, Rudolph said he has never met anyone with bigger hands.
Add his big white receiver gloves over them and you can see why they have been referred to as Mickey Mouse hands and Hamburger Helper hands. In fact, General Mills, the Minnesota-based company that makes Hamburger Helper, sent Rudolph three boxes – all three flavors, the aspiring pitchman said – of the product this season. In addition, Rudolph received two of the Hamburger Helper caricature gloves that are sitting in Rudolph's locker.
Rudolph said he is hoping to work out a sponsorship opportunity with General Mills, which is only a few miles north of the Vikings' Winter Park practice facility.
"They always said, not only are my hands large but I wear all-white gloves so they just stick out on film," Rudolph said. "They've been called Mickey Mouse gloves, Hamburger Helper gloves, all different kinds of things. Now I have to wear them, they're trademarked."
The big white gloves have been identified with Hamburger Helper for decades, but Vikings fans are just starting to get a taste of what Rudolph has cooking. His talent was obvious last year, but while still searching for his explosiveness and behind veterans like Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe, Rudolph didn't get nearly the opportunities he is seeing this year.
Last year, he played in 47 percent of the offensive snaps. This year, he has essentially doubled it – playing in 307 of 329 (93 percent) offensive snaps through five games, including every snap for three of the five contests.
His hands have been a big reason why.
Of the 16 tight ends at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine before the draft, Rudolph's hands were easily the biggest at 10¾, a quarter-inch bigger than his nearest competitor. At 6-foot-6, he was also the tallest tight end and his 80-5/8-inch wingspan was third in his position group.
"It's always something that sticks out. When I shake someone's hand, it's the first thing that they say," said Rudolph, who shook plenty of NFL scouts' hands at the 2011 combine. "It's definitely an advantage catching the football. It's something that, if you can get your hand on it, most of the time you're going to be able to bring it in, at least that's my philosophy. If I can get a hand on it, I'm going to catch it. It helps a lot when you can just grab the ball and you have big hands to bring it in."
While Harvin has the most targets (48) and catches (38) on the team, Rudolph is second in both categories with 19 catches on 31 targets.
Clearly, Rudolph has gained the full confidence of his good friend and quarterback Christian Ponder, and of Bill Musgrave, their offensive coordinator. When head coach Leslie Frazier was ready to go conservative Sunday against the Tennessee Titans to work the clock midway through the fourth quarter with a 23-7 lead, Musgrave wanted one more shot at the end zone and thought of Rudolph.
"I had just talked to our coaches on the headset about using the clock was more important than a touchdown," Frazier said. "Then Bill said, ‘Well, we got a touchdown on this play, we can get it.' Okay, call it, and we scored. I turned around and looked at him and said, ‘Good job, Bill.' So much for using clock and running the ball. But it was a great play by Christian and Kyle and a great job by Bill and the rest of the offensive staff."
Despite calling that play twice previously in the game and not throwing it Rudolphs' way, Ponder was confident enough in Rudolph to send the jump ball for the final score, and with Rudolph's height and basketball background not many NFL defenders are going to be able to stop it. The first two times with that play, Ponder went to Harvin underneath, but when it came to launching the ball into the end zone, he's seen Rudolph make similar plays.
"They went man coverage and we saw a one-on-one match-up with John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph and I trust Kyle because he can make big plays," Ponder said. "For him to hang onto that ball with two defenders on him was unbelievable. It was a good match-up and we took advantage of it."
Rudolph has made Ponder right with his throws and decisions before. In the team's best quality win of the year, the Vikings were clinging to a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when the San Francisco 49ers sent a "zero blitz," which was supposed to leave all of the Vikings' receiving options in single coverage. A 49ers defender messed up and nobody covered Adrian Peterson, who was standing all alone in the end zone. Ponder didn't see him, but he threw a pass to his well-covered red zone security blanket and Rudolph made a one-handed catch behind his defender for a 24-13 lead that stood up.
His hands definitely came into play there.
"It's extremely important, not just to have big hands but strong hands," Rudolph said. "A lot of times in this league as a tight end you're making contact catches. You're making catches in traffic. To be able to get the ball into your body before the guy is on you or trying to knock it, it's something we work on all the time with Jimmy (Johnson, the tight ends coach) and making sure you're making strong catches. It's crazy to think about, but when you're catching it, it's from your hands all the way through your body to your core. You have to be strong bringing in the football."
If he does that often enough with the big white gloves surrounding the ball, the sponsorships might be thrown his way soon, too.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Rudolph offers a big helping hand
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