Kyle Rudolph is looking to expand his role after decreasing his weight.
The Minnesota Vikings tight end is coming off an injury-shortened season in his third year with the team and made an early commitment to becoming more agile. That meant losing 15 pounds this offseason – before he ever reported for the offseason conditioning program on April 7.
“I enjoyed that today. It was nice to be out there running around at 258 instead of 273,” Rudolph said after going through the team’s first full-team training camp practice Friday afternoon.
“I just focused on diet in the offseason. Normally you leave here in January and just focus on yourself in February and March. I really focused right away in February on what I was eating and was able to get down before we came back in April.”
In addition to finding the reduced weight helpful in surviving the early rigors of training camp with a new head coach and what appears to be an increased tempo in practices, there is another reason the weight loss should come in handy.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s scheme has been well-chronicled here and elsewhere, but within that scheme comes a need for running routes differently. A more agile Rudolph is hoping to reap the benefits.
Although he hasn’t been timed to prove the increased quickness, he says it’s obvious when viewing the film of his practices so far this year and putting them up against his game and practice film from previous years.
“Turn on the tape. I think that’s the biggest measuring stick when you watch the tape,” he said. “I think for me, I can feel it, whether it’s getting in and out of my breaks – straight-line speed I don’t really notice it a whole lot – but being in and out of breaks is extremely important in this offense. The way Norv coaches routes, it’s different than anything we’ve done in the past and definitely being lighter has helped.”
“A lot of times in the past we were speed-cutting out of things – that way you’re running full speed the whole time – and this is getting in and out of breaks as quick as possible,” he said. “There are a million different ways to create separation and everybody coaches things different, so with Norv it’s more of a quickness kind of thing. Being a bigger, taller guy, that wasn’t always my strength. I have a long stride and I like to keep it going, so that was something I had to work on this offseason.”
At 6-foot-6, Rudolph has great height for the position. And with an 80-5/8-inch wing span measured at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, he has an ideal catch radius.
But being tall also means it can be harder for him to be quick in and out of his breaks. He has to “shorten your stride and drop your weight, especially when you’re up here,” he said, referring to his height.
The techniques for Turner’s preferred route-running are all new to Rudolph.
“At Notre Dame it was a lot more speed-cutting as well, especially in the spread,” he said. “In college, you have so much room with the hashes being so wide, the numbers being so wide. Here, the ball is kind of always in the middle of the field, so it’s definitely more emphasis on creating that separation quicker.”
Turner admits that a tight end can be a quarterback’s safety blanket, and Rudolph is hoping to at least get back to his Pro Bowl form of 2012, when he was the MVP of that all-star game, even if he is used a bit differently than he was the last three years in the system employed by former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
“It’s a very tight-end friendly, very playmaker-friendly system,” he said of Turner’s offense. “He’s going to put us in situations to go out there on Sunday to make big plays and to contribute in this offense.
“I think last year I lined up a lot of places. I may be standing up a little more than having my hand on the ground. In terms of actual alignments, I should be pretty much in the same place. I lined up wide last year. I lined up in the backfield. I stood next to Matt and Phil last year. I imagine myself in those positions again.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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