The Vikings open practice Friday in Mankato. One individual who could play a big part in whether the team returns to the postseason is tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had a great year in 2012, catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns in his second NFL season, then capped it off by being named the Most Valuable Player in the Pro Bowl.
“You know it was just an honor to be over there and playing in that game with some of the best players, the top-notch players in our game,” Rudolph, 23, said about the experience in Hawaii. “I wanted to play well and have a good time. I never would have excepted to be named MVP of the game, but being out there and playing with those guys definitely gave me some confidence to carry on into next year. It was a tremendous honor.”
Even though the Vikings lost the great Percy Harvin to Seattle, the 6-6, 258-pound Rudolph believes the receiving corps on the team will be much improved over last year.
“With the addition of Greg Jennings [from Green Bay], he brings a ton not only on the field — for the last how many years we’ve seen what Greg can do on the field, with him being in our division — and now we have him on our team,” Rudolph said. “But it is also what he brings into the locker room and how he’s able to mentor the younger wide receivers. We have a very young wide receiver corps, and Greg does a tremendous job with them as well.”
Rudolph has been impressed by first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson, who, like Jennings, impressed everybody in offseason practices.
“Cordarrelle has been very special,” Rudolph said. “He’s one of those raw-talent kind of guys, big, fast. He’s really put in the time and the effort to learn the playbook and be able to be around Greg and just absorb all kinds of knowledge from Greg. We really expect a lot out of Cordarrelle this year.”
Rudolph leads a tight end group that also includes fellow Notre Dame product John Carlson and second-year player Rhett Ellison.
“He looked really good this offseason,” Rudolph said of Carlson. “We think John will be a big part in our success on offense this year. John is the kind of guy that I’ve looked up to my whole career and has been a great influence on me as a tight end.”
As for Ellison, Rudolph said: “Rhett has done a phenomenal job, coming in last year with not only what he did on offense but playing in all four phases of special teams. He’s just that kind of football player that comes in and works hard and does whatever you ask of him.”
Asked how he rated the performance of quarterback Christian Ponder since the end of the season, Rudolph said: “He’s definitely put in the work this offseason and continued to get better. I think that full season of being a starting quarterback, the highs and the lows, have definitely helped him to get where he is today.”
Rudolph is known for being a great pass-catching tight end, and certainly that’s why he was invited to the Pro Bowl. But he said he knows the responsibilities that come with blocking in Bill Musgrave’s offense, especially since he and the offensive linemen are responsible for making room for Adrian Peterson.
“Our identity as an offense is running the football,” Rudolph said. “We feel like we have the best running back in the game, and we really pride ourselves in being a key part in that running game. Anytime a number is called where Adrian is going to be running behind us and we have a key block, we really take pride in making sure we get that done.”
Rudolph is confident the Vikings did the things necessary this offseason to take a step forward. “We feel like we’re moving in the right direction and doing the appropriate things here [before the regular season] to set ourselves up to be successful next year,” he said.
Gophers camp well-attended
As usual, Jerry Kill and his Gophers football coaches played host to several camps this summer, and what was interesting was the number of players from out-of-state who attended. The homes of the campers indicates how focused on national recruiting the Gophers staff is.
The Gophers held their final senior camp on Friday, and there was a wide range of states represented. Of the 94 high school seniors who were preregistered for the camp, 48 were from Minnesota, 21 were from Wisconsin, 12 were from Illinois, three were from North Dakota, two were from Ohio, two were from Iowa and there was one apiece from Texas, Indiana, South Dakota, Missouri, Utah and Kansas.
On top of that, players from Minnesota, Louisiana, Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin and even Quebec attended camps over the summer. The Gophers also held a junior camp on Saturday with several out-of-state players attending. Kill has to be happy with the big turnout from around the country.
• Wally Ellenson, who finished second in the high jump at the U.S. junior track and field championships and qualified for the Pam Am Games in August in Colombia, expects to continue competing in both basketball as well as track and field under new Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino.
• Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell is ranked as the No. 1 football recruit in the country for the class of 2015, according to ESPN.com. Cornell, listed at 6-3 and 238 pounds, will be visiting the Gophers this weekend but also has visited Notre Dame, were several former Raiders players have attended.
• Jeff Jones, the Gophers running back recruit from Minneapolis Washburn who is the top rated player in the state for the class of 2014, recently participated in the Opening, perhaps the biggest football camp in the country, held at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Jones received an invitation after winning the running back MVP honors at the Nike Football Training Camp in Chicago.
• Twins first-round draft pick Kohl Stewart has a 1.13 ERA over eight innings in his first three games with the Gulf Coast League Twins. The 18-year-old righthander, drafted fourth overall this year, has seven strikeouts to five hits and one walk. ESPN.com baseball writer Keith Law recently ranked Stewart as the 30th best prospect in baseball.
• Rashad Vaughn, the former Cooper High School basketball standout who is now with Findlay Prep in Nevada, is playing at the Nike Global Games for USA Midwest. Vaughn went 6-for-14 from the field and scored 14 points in a victory over Brazil on Thursday. Last week, Vaughn had a standout performance and shared MVP honors at the Reebok Breakout Classic in Philadelphia, scoring 33 points while hitting nine three-pointers.