This Vikings rookie is getting a long look

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2011 - 10:38 PM

Admittedly rusty, tight end Kyle Rudolph has the chance to stand out among 2011 draftees.

MANKATO - At a point when some of the NFL's high-profile rookie draft picks are making news because of serious injuries, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is getting extra attention from the coaches because of a hobbling veteran who's ahead of him on the depth chart.

"These are great reps for me because, personally, I'm a little rusty," Rudolph said. "It's been since October."

A hamstring injury ended Rudolph's season early last year at Notre Dame. A hamstring injury to Vikings No. 1 tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on Monday cleared the way for Rudolph to work with the No. 1 goal-line offense and increase his other reps, primarily with the second team, in Tuesday's full-padded practice.

Shiancoe's status for Saturday night's preseason opener at Tennessee has yet to be determined. But given his vital role in an offense that uses a lot of formations with two pass-catching tight ends, the Vikings aren't going to push Shiancoe and risk having him having to battle a hamstring issue into the regular season.

"[Rudolph] will get a little more exposure, which is good for him," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "[Tuesday] he made some good plays. We're trying to put him in a position where he can beat man coverage."

With first-round pick Christian Ponder competing for only the backup quarterback position, it's Rudolph, the No. 43 pick overall, who is expected to have the biggest immediate impact among the 10 players the Vikings drafted this year.

Musgrave already sounds like a man who's eager to find out. He went so far as to compare the 6-6, 258-pounder's skills to that of a future Hall of Famer he worked with in Atlanta last season.

"He's a tough guy for DBs to handle because he's big and he can move, and when he catches the ball he's a lot like Tony Gonzalez -- he catches it out there away from his body," Musgrave said. "So we're going to try to create mismatches for him and continue to utilize a guy like that. We'd be silly not to."

But first, coach Leslie Frazier wants to see Rudolph improve as a blocker.

"It's the one area that we've got to work on," Frazier said. "He knew that coming in, and we knew it."

Of the other eight draft picks besides Ponder and Rudolph, six are working primarily with the third-team units. Weak-side linebacker Ross Homan, a sixth-round draft pick, has turned some heads and is working with the second team. And free safety Mistral Raymond, also a sixth-round pick, has moved up to second team behind Jamarca Sanford the past two days because of a hamstring injury to potential starter Tyrell Johnson.

Fourth-round pick Christian Ballard has the look of a defensive end, but he has been working with the third team at the tackle spot Kevin Williams occupies. Sixth-round draft picks DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco are long-term projects working with the third-team offensive line at left tackle and center.

Fifth-round pick Brandon Burton appears to be lost in the shuffle at cornerback, where the Vikings are sorting through 10 players. Defensive end DeAundre Reed, a seventh-round pick, looks the part but is raw. And another seventh-round pick, receiver Stephen Burton, has struggled with drops in camp.

While Rudolph hopes to get some time with the first unit Saturday, other rookies around the league are sidelined for months, if not the season. In Detroit, for instance, running back and No. 57 overall pick Mikel Leshoure ruptured an Achilles' tendon, adding to the Lions' long list of injury woes. In New York, the Giants' first-round pick, cornerback Prince Amukamara, will miss about two months because of a broken foot.

Meanwhile, in Mankato, a healthy Rudolph enjoyed the extra time on the field -- even the pass from Joe Webb that he appeared to drop in the end zone during a goal-line drill.

"Well," he said, "the DB tipped it. He made a great play. I wouldn't let the ball just hit me in the chest. I'd like to say I'm more coordinated than that."

The Vikings believe he is. And they've been counting on it since the draft in April.

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