Just when you thought Kyle Rudolph might be finding his stride as a pass-catching tight end, teammates and coaches rave that there could be bigger things to come.
Rudolph remains humble and grounded on being a team player. All the while, teammate Chad Greenway believes Rudolph "is going to be the breakout star in the NFL" and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Rudolph's MVP performance in the Pro Bowl "flipped a switch."
"The Kyle Rudolph that I see now is so much more confident and more sure of himself than the Kyle I saw a year ago," Frazier said. "It's like night and day. I'm anxious to see what he does in training camp from a blocking standpoint, but that Pro Bowl, it's flipped a switch. He knows he has a chance to be a premier tight end in this league."
Rudolph had a banner season in 2012, catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns. His receptions and yardage were second only to Percy Harvin, and his receiving touchdowns were three times as many as any other Viking.
But Rudolph and his teammates admit that the Pro Bowl appearance – both what he did on the field and what he learned off the field – could take him to another level in 2013.
"He's amazing. He, to me, is going to be the breakout star in the NFL. If people don't already know about what he's capable of based off the Pro Bowl MVP performance and the year he did have last year, we're looking for great things from him," said linebacker Chad Greenway, who faces Rudolph often in practice. "Hopefully he can get up to 80, 90 catches – difference-making catches on third-down conversions, touchdowns, big-time in the red zone."
Rudolph came into the league with comparisons to Cowboys great Jason Witten and he soaked up the chance to learn from Witten at the Pro Bowl.
"I got to play with people (in the Pro Bowl) I grew up watching, grew up idolizing. To be out there and spend a week with them, see the way they go about their business on and off the field, I think it really helped me a lot," Rudolph said.
"Being with Jason for a week and being able to pick his brain, whether it's just always perfecting your craft, the way he goes about a season, the way he works, that's truly what makes him special as a tight end. I always try to emulate his game and incorporate things into mine."
Rudolph said he didn't expect "in my wildest dreams" that he would become MVP of the Pro Bowl and admitted it gave him a confidence boost.
Still, while Rudolph had five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown in the Pro Bowl, he has seen the greatest improvement in his run blocking the last two years. Asked what is the next step for him, he didn't hesitate to reference helping Adrian Peterson in the running game.
"Just being a complete tight end, just being somebody that is dependable and accountable in the run game. That's our identity. We're a power running football team," he said.
"We were joking the other day if you turned on film late in college or my early rookie year and turned on film now how far I've come as a run blocker, it's truly a tribute to Jimmie (Johnson, the tight end coach), the work that we've put in day in and day out in our run technique. It's something that we take pride in. We don't want to be just a pass catcher. We want to be part of the run game, being there with the big fellas."
But Rudolph's oversized and reliable hands covered by big white gloves don't get compared to the Hamburger Helper for his blocking. His biggest asset is catching almost everything thrown his way, and it's getting to the point that perhaps no other tight end in the league does it better these days.
"He's just that type of target that you look around the league that everybody wants to have," Greenway said. "He's a big body. Can body you, can muscle you and go up and get it. From a defensive standpoint, he's a mismatch against whoever you put him against – linebackers are tough from one standpoint and the safety is tough from the other. He's a great guy for me to compete against every day and a great guy to have on our squad when it comes to game day."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Rudolph receiving high accolades
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