Notebook: Rudolph expanding his horizons

In his third season, Kyle Rudolph is looking to make the mnove from impressive red zone receiver to one of the game's elite tight ends.

While Adrian Peterson stole most of the headlines for the Vikings last year, one of the unsung heroes of the Vikings playoff run was tight end Kyle Rudolph. In his second seasons, his receptions more than doubled (53) and his nine red zone touchdowns led all NFL tight ends.

Entering his third season, Rudolph is expecting big things from himself and the Vikings offense. He is proud of his accomplishments to date, especially being the go-to guy in the red zone.

But he wants his red zone acumen to be just part of his game. He's been working tirelessly in the offseason to improve his technique and route running so he can be a big-play impact receiver anywhere on the field.

Rudolph credits much of his success to his rookie season. While he didn't have much of a role in the offense, he was in a tight end room that included veterans Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser, both who carved out long and memorable NFL careers. While his progress didn't always show on the stat sheet, he was learning volumes from his veteran teammates.

"My rookie year, I had my set role with the offense," Rudolph said. "They had little plays here and there for me, but it was really about learning from Shank and Jim. Going into my second year, the comfort level was so much higher, I was kind of able to see things as a whole – whether it was offense or defense."

Both Shiancoe and Kleinsasser were gone last season – Kleinsasser retiring after the 2011 season and Shiancoe not being re-signed in free agency. But as Rudolph begins to carve out his own legacy with the Vikings, he owes a big debt of gratitude to both Kleinsasser and Shiancoe, who Rudolph believes helped him become a complete NFL tight end.

"To have, in my opinion, the greatest blocking tight end that's even played the game – the best that I've ever seen – in Jim and you have a great receiver in Shank, what better learning experience could you get?" Rudolph said. "I really try to pride myself in doing both (pass catching and blocking). To learn from both of those guys and learning different aspects of the game helped me a lot."

Rudolph may merely be scratching the surface of what he can do. Like many receivers that come into the NFL, there is a process they go through in becoming a veteran with an impressive resume and body of work. It takes time – typically three years – to have the requisite skills to be an elite receiver and Rudolph is on the cusp of hitting Stage 3.

It doesn't hurt one of Rudolph's best friends on the Vikings is quarterback Christian Ponder. Both members of the draft class of 2011, they forged a bond when neither was able to work out with the team during the NFL lockout and that camaraderie hasn't stopped since.

"We came in together and, working out during the lockout, we've been friends since Day One," Rudolph said. "He feels comfortable with me. I'm comfortable with him. It's definitely his confidence in me. It's got to make it easier on the quarterback for him to think, ‘No matter where I throw this, either Kyle's going to catch it or nobody's going to catch it.' When a guy is hesitant to throw it, that's when problems come up."

Rudolph had his breakout season in 2012 a year earlier than many expected. He anticipates 2013 to be a bigger year, but added that the tight end position is more than merely stats for receptions, yards and touchdowns. If the Vikings are winning and Adrian Peterson is pulling the cart, that's fine with Rudolph. His numbers will come, but he's seeing the game from the big picture and the only number of significance is the team's win total.

"If I'm doing everything I can to help us win, that's my goal – whether I catch 20 touchdowns or five, 100 balls or 50 balls," Rudolph said. "If I go out every week and we don't throw the ball a whole lot, but Adrian runs for 250 yards, I'm part of that. I have to block. So much of our position can't be stat-oriented. We have to make sure we do our assignment to the best of our ability. When you get everybody doing that, that's when you see offenses make great strides and have success."

FRIDAY PRACTICE NOTES

  • Much of Friday's afternoon practice was devoted to positional drills with some seven-on-seven and a brief 11-on-11 session late in the session.

  • The team continued to use a lengthy rotation of players in punt return drills, including Cordarrelle Patterson, Josh Robinson, Jerome Simpson, Stephen Burton, Marcus Sherels and Joe Webb.

  • Both Webb and Robinson fumbled their first return attempts, which didn't help their case to win a returner spot.

  • Punter Jeff Locke put on a show during punting drills, bombing three punts of more than 70 yards.

  • On the down side, the Vikings tried a fake punt formation and have Locke throw a pass. But it was tipped and intercepted by Tyrone McKenzie.

  • Christian Ponder's wife, ESPN sideline analyst Samantha Steele, was on hand for practice, as was former Viking Ben Leber.

  • Patterson showed some excellent blocking skills during 11-on-11 two-minute offense drills.

  • The Division III referees that were brought in to officiate practice weren't immune from players' barbs. In the two-minute drill, both Matt Cassel and Adrian Peterson gave an earful to the official, who blew a play dead when there wasn't a defender around the Vikings receiver, prompting Peterson, who wasn't in for that play, to ask, "Who tackled him? You?"

  • Brian Robison rolled an ankle late in practice, but the injury didn't appear to be serious.

  • Jarius Wright was the most impressive receiver during the 7-on-7 drills, catching everything thrown his way, including a couple of bombs down the field.


    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.

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