When most people think about a mid-season bye week, thoughts of recharging the batteries and taking a few days of R&R away from the daily grind are at the forefront..
Rudolph met with head coach Mike Zimmer and the two had a sit-down during which Zimmer explained to him the way things were going for the offense at that point. Plans to be more wide open were being scaled back and Rudolph needed to understand what his role was going to be. It turned out to be a page-turner for his Vikings career.
“That meeting was huge as far as I was concerned,” Rudolph said. “He just told me that it’s going to vary week by week in the pass game. Some weeks you have the opportunity to catch eight or 10 balls. In other weeks, you may catch two. He said that week in, week out, you can help this team by blocking.”
Rudolph embraced the challenge. He didn’t want to come off the field for Rhett Ellison or a fullback for pass protection and run blocking. He didn’t want to be a two-down tight end who would come off the field in three- and four-receiver sets and perhaps at times when the team was grinding games out late. He wanted to be an every-down tight end, so his focus went more from being a receiving threat to paying more attention to his blocking assignments in both the run and pass game.
“I just tried to make a concerted effort to contribute to help our team however I could,” Rudolph said. “If that was going to be by run blocking, pass blocking, helping in pass protection and it wasn’t going to be catching a bunch of balls, when he sat me down and told me that, I kind of viewed things differently.”
Rudolph feels that he is more well-rounded as a player because he embraced his blocking responsibilities and came to understand that, as the flow of a game plays out, his role could be drastically different – playing one game primarily in the backfield blocking and the next game stretching the seam of the defense.
It doesn’t mean he has quit thinking about his passing responsibilities. Far from it. He sees this time of year as being the ideal period for the anticipated improvement of the passing game to start taking hold. With players unable to hit one another with any ferocity during OTA workouts, practice can be utilized like a 7-on-7 camp.
“At this time of year, we’re just running around in shorts and helmets, so we’re not working much at all on the run game,” Rudolph said. “Now is a great opportunity for us to work on the pass game. I think we have all the pieces. We’ve got the guys in place to do it. It’s just a matter of going out there, doing it and giving us some balance to go with our run game.”
Rudolph said the emphasis on the passing game is more than just Teddy Bridgewater taking the next step in his maturation. It’s more of taking the pressure off the running game, because, too often last year, the Vikings ran on first and second down – more out of necessity than choice.
Any time a team becomes too predictable, trouble follows and the Vikings became too predictable last year.
“Last year, we got really run-heavy,” Rudolph said. “We really didn’t have many opportunities in the passing game. I think we’re making more of a conscious effort to get better in the pass game because we need that to take some of the pressure off of our run game.”
With expectations high for the 2016 season, the Vikings are almost universally projected as a playoff-caliber team. The only thing currently viewed as holding them back is the passing offense.
But those views are based upon past performance. Rudolph reiterated that all the good things that happened last year don’t matter this year. Granted, the offense and defense are a year deeper into grasping the voluminous playbooks that Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have assembled over the years.
As much progress as the team made last year, it means nothing now.
“We want to build on what we’ve done before in 2016, but it’s weird how football works,” Rudolph said. “You don’t start where you left off. We have to go back out and lay the foundation again. We know what it takes and how to build it. Now it’s a matter of getting back to the basics and laying a new foundation for 2016 and take this year from scratch and show that we can be better than we have been in past years.”