Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been playing some of the best football of his career and a big part of his recent success is because of the emergence of tight end Kyle Rudolph. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end has had a surprisingly quiet season, but has started to come on in recent weeks.
It all seemed to start with the Vikings’ Week 11 game against the Green Bay Packers, when he recorded six receptions on nine targets for 106 yards and a touchdown. He then followed that up with a career-high seven receptions against the Atlanta Falcons.
Rudolph’s production hit a little bit of a lull against the Seattle Seahawks, but no one on the Vikings offense played well against them. He averaged over 10 yards a reception against the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, and then averaged 26½ yards a reception against the New York Giants while also recording a touchdown in the Vikings’ most recent game.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was asked about Rudolph’s recent success on Monday and he said that a big part of it is that Bridgewater is starting to trust Rudolph more.
“He’s running routes a lot better. I think he’s running with confidence,” Zimmer said of his tight end. “Early in the year, for whatever reason, he wasn’t getting the ball as much. I think Teddy believes in him now and a lot of times that’s part of it.”
It makes sense that Bridgewater would need time to gain confidence in Rudolph after he missed seven games in 2014 dealing with a sports hernia. He had surgery on it, so it took time for him to recover.
It also took time for Bridgewater to gain confidence and chemistry with his tight end, but he now seems comfortable throwing to him, even if he is covered. Rudolph is the biggest target that Bridgewater has, and having the confidence that he will come down with the ball has helped out the quarterback.
“I think it’s something they’ve made a concerted effort at from the coaches’ play-calling,” Rudolph said about why he has been more involved lately. “Teddy throwing me balls – kind of more contested catches – just having the trust in me where even when someone might be close that he knows I’ll go up and make a play.”
Rudolph has dealt with injuries throughout his career and has not played in a full season since 2012, when the Vikings made the playoffs and he was named to the Pro Bowl. That is why this offseason he made becoming more durable a primary focus.
He offers a unique combination of size and athletic ability, but that does not mean anything if he is injured.
“I took more time off after the season and really tried to focus on becoming more durable,” he said. “Strength and conditioning is never really an issue. You’re going to work out and you’re going to be strong and in shape, but for me it was more about durability.”
It’s important for any tight end to be durable because they are often getting hit from multiple players every time they run a route and catch a pass. And with the recent success Rudolph has been having, those hits have been coming more often and it showed against New York.
The Giants seemed to make it a point not to let Rudolph release off the line cleanly, but he said that it is just part of the job when playing tight end. He is used to it and accepts it because he knows if defenders are taking time to hit him it means they are not rushing the passer.
“As a tight end, that’s what you have to deal with,” he said. “As a receiver you know the guy you’re facing. We have defensive ends, linebackers, safeties. We’re always in traffic. That’s just part of our position and part of things we have to navigate.”
Rudolph has played a major role in the team’s final stretch of the season and now they have one final regular season game where they have a chance to clinch a division title. He had his best game of the season the first time the Vikings played the Packers, and you can be sure he will be looking to do the same this time around.
In his five years in the NFL Rudolph has made the playoffs once and never had the opportunity to compete for a division title. He knows these opportunities don’t come around every year, so he wants to do his best to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him.