August 1, 2012
Showers of praise has been raining down on second-year Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph all summer. Even before his rookie season ended last year, we all were starting to catch a glimpse of a possible future star in the making. While it’s only training camp, recent rave reviews from Vikings teammates and beat writers suggest Rudolph could take a pretty big step in 2012.
NFL Network’s Michelle Beisner has said that Rudolph has been the “MVP” of camp so far. ”They’re really impressed with him,” Beisner said. “What he’s done and his work ethic the last five days”.
I believe Beisner because I saw this coming a mile away. Rudolph was never properly utilized at Notre Dame, but he probably would have blasted off in his final season in 2010, had an injury not robbed him of the majority of his final year. Regardless, Rudolph made quite a few jaw-dropping plays in his rookie season last year, including an impressive touchdown catch against the Denver Broncos.
And he did this despite playing second fiddle to Visanthe Shiancoe and learning on the fly with a fellow rookie, Christian Ponder, at quarterback.
Things could quickly change in a big way heading into 2012, and even Ponder is very aware of it. ”We’ve built up a lot of chemistry,” said Ponder. “I think we just click and (Rudolph) finds ways to get open. He’s such a big target. I have a lot of confidence throwing to him.”
As he should. Rudolph has a scary blend of size, speed and physicality for the tight end position, and bares an eery resemblance to New England Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski. Few tight ends bring this type of polished package to the table, and while it’ll be virtually impossible for Rudolph to turn himself into what Gronkowski has become, his talent suggests he could get pretty close.
But will we see the big jump in 2012? Rudolph posted meager numbers as a rookie, catching just 25 receptions for 249 yards and three scores. However, a lot of that had to do with him not being the team’s top tight end, and surrounding circumstances.
One thing that is working in his favor heading into the new year is that John Carlson, the tight end the team signed in the off-season, could miss time with a Grade 2 MCL sprain. But regardless of his injury. Rudolph has all but been assured of the starting job, and should see plenty of action ahead of Carlson – specifically in the red-zone where his size and ball skills could lead to many touchdowns in just his second season.
Also working to Rudolph’s advantage is number two receiver Jerome Simpson missing the first three weeks due to a league suspension. That means Rudolph could be targeted even more than usual, and if he and Ponder can develop the rapport they have right now early in the year, there’s a very good chance it stacks for the remainder of the season.
Lastly, star running back Adrian Peterson isn’t 100% yet after suffering torn knee ligaments near the end of last year. The team doesn’t want to rush him back, so they could bring him along slowly, while letting backup running back Toby Gerhart move the piles. But either way, a less than 100% Peterson could mean less rushing attempts near the goal-line, and more passing attempts to red-zone targets like Rudolph.
No matter what happens, Rudolph is a player people are talking about and getting excited about. And if these Minnesota Vikings are going to be anything other than cellar dwellars in 2012, Rudolph is going to have to meet these suddenly high expectations.
But the scariest thing of all is that I truly believe he can.