But Week 3 at New Orleans was Rudolph’s last game action. His sports hernia became too painful, required surgery and he hasn’t played since. He began practicing last week and is expected to make his return Sunday against Chicago. For Rudolph, it couldn’t come soon enough because he wants to help the Vikings keep their positive momentum building.
“It has been a while,” Rudolph said. “It’s exciting to be back out there with my teammates. It’s a big week for us. It’s an opportunity for us to get our first division win and we have an opportunity to get back to .500. I’ve said this the last couple of weeks from watching on the side, it’s extremely exciting what’s going on around here and I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to work this week and try to get back out there on Sunday.”
One of the keys to his return is going to be getting a rapport going with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. During training camp and in the preseason, Rudolph worked almost exclusively with veteran Matt Cassel and the first-team offense. He played only played three quarters with Bridgewater, but he is excited about the opportunity of providing Bridgewater with another weapon to help diversify the Vikings offense.
“When you have a kid as talented as Teddy, he just seems to make things happen – like we’ve been playing together the last four years,” Rudolph said. “The kid is really special. We feel as skill position players that we need to do everything we can to make him look good because he does so many things really well.”
It’s been difficult for Rudolph to watch his teammates from the sideline for a second straight year. Since the start of the 2013 season, he has missed 14 of 25 games due to injury and has been out of the lineup more than in it.
He has been impressed with how the offense has transitioned from Cassel to Bridgewater and how both the offense and defense seem to be picking up momentum as they return to action off their bye week. He is itching to get his chance to contribute and be a part it.
“We just need to keep building on that,” Rudolph said. “It’s extremely important for us to take the next step. Not many guys in this locker room have ever won in Chicago. I’m one of them. It’s a big week for us.”
Rudolph was quick to point out that the improvement of the Vikings over the last month has been due to players becoming more comfortable with the new coaching schemes installed by head coach Mike Zimmer on defense and Turner on offense.
The coaching staff has tailored some of its game plan to accentuate the strengths that the players have and try to mask or eliminate the weaknesses. Over the last month, it would seem the pieces have come together and Rudolph is excited about the opportunity to be part of the new and improving Vikings offense.
“The coaching staff has worked tirelessly to put us into situations to be successful,” Rudolph said. “Now we have guys going out there making plays when the opportunities present themselves. It’s pretty cool when you see it from the top down. It’s one of things where you keep putting in savings, savings, savings. Now it’s time to go out, have some fun and take some of that reward back.”
Zimmer stated this week that Rudolph will likely be kept on a snap count, but Turner is confident that he can mix in with Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison, who have picked up the slack in Rudolph’s absence. He isn’t sure how much Rudolph will play, but Turner is looking to maximize the time that he is on the field.
“I think it’s what he’ll be able to handle,” Turner said of keeping Rudolph on a snap count. “We’ve got a little chemistry going – a little rhythm with Chase and Rhett. If guys make plays, you to continue to give them opportunities and then you want to give Kyle an opportunity to make plays.”
While he isn’t guaranteed to be in the lineup, all signs are pointing to Rudolph making his return Sunday. He’s been held back by Zimmer and head trainer Eric Sugarman to make sure he is 100 percent before he gets sent back into action. It hasn’t been easy, but Rudolph is in the starting gate and is waiting for it to swing open so he can start running free down the middle of the field again.
“I’m going to do everything I can to get out there on Sunday,” Rudolph said. “I’m tired of watching. It is Sug and Coach Zimmer that kind of protect me from myself. I’m my own worst enemy with that. If it was up to me, I would have tried to be out there last week.”