The annual storyline was in full bloom again this offseason: Kyle Rudolph should be more involved in the offense, the mantra goes.
Rudolph has been involved plenty in the offense. Besides quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the starting five offensive linemen, no other offensive player has been involved in more snaps or played in 50 or more snaps in every game.
But Rudolph’s role in the passing game changes from week to week.
“Kyle is doing good. He’s a great kid and he keeps working extremely hard. I actually had a talk with him today, each game is going to call for something different, for him to do something different for us,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “He’s got to want to accept the role that he is in that week and stay patient with a lot of things and a lot of plays will come his way. I love his personality, his determination and he’ll continue to be a big part.”
Behind Mike Wallace, Rudolph has also been the most targeted player in the passing game, but his four targets against the Denver Broncos were the lowest of the season to date.
“That Denver front that we just played is probably one of the best in football. When we do stuff like that, I’m required to be in more and helping our offensive line, helping protection,” Rudolph said. “There will be plenty of opportunities down the road for me to catch the ball. No matter what my responsibility is – as a tight end there can be so many different responsibilities outside of just catching the ball, even though it seems like everyone on the outside only bases our success on receptions – there’s a lot of other things that I have to do in this offense. That’s run blocking, pass protection, chipping out in protection and getting into routes. There’s a lot more facets of a successful game for us at the tight end position than just strictly catches and yards.”
The Broncos required more pass protection for Bridgewater, but he didn’t always get it. He was sacked seven times, hit 11 other times and pressured throughout the game.
There’s a good chance Rudolph heard some of the criticisms in the pass protection in general and of him specifically.
“I thought I did fine. Obviously going against a 300-and-something-pound defensive end, he got me a couple of times. I got him a couple times,” he said. “And pass protection, I had to block Von (Miller), who is probably one of the best players in the league and I kept him away from the quarterback and did my job. There’s plenty of instances of me being in protection. It’s about knowing my assignment, executing it and keeping him away from the quarterback.”
Zimmer said Rudolph has improved on some of his pass blocking but still needs to improve more.
Rudolph said earlier in the offseason he was required to block more when operating in Bill Musgrave’s scheme, but with the moving parts the Vikings have had on the offensive line this year, he might be getting as much work in that area in 2015. As long Adrian Peterson is part of the Vikings, blocking in the run game is an every-man task.
In pass protection, however, the Broncos presented a couple of unscouted looks that created some issues. They put their defensive ends inside on a pass rush and brought blitzers from both sides another time.
Zimmer said the Broncos blitzed a little more than he anticipated.
“We had a couple mental errors, we had a couple guys get beat, so it was a combination of things,” Zimmer said. “I thought Teddy did a good job of getting the ball out, but there was a couple of times where we weren’t able to adjust the protection because of some of the movement things that we had going on.”
For Rudolph, blocking is still an emphasis, but he admits it can be hard to stay patient for his opportunities in the passing game, even if he knows his role will change from week to week.
“Absolutely. They always help remind me that’s there’s more that you can do than just catches and yards,” Rudolph said. “Obviously I want to be out there running around catching the ball, but what good does it do if I’m running down the field and we’re not getting the ball out? There’s a lot of different responsibilities that I have and our staff is great about reminding me and helping me that, ‘Look, you’re not not doing anything. You are making a difference in the game and you’re helping us win.’”