Rudolph performs stunning feats with hands

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2011 - 2:13 PM

Teammates laud Kyle Rudolph's catching ability. So why don't they throw more to him?

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Tight end Kyle Rudolph pulled in a 20-yard pass against Detroit.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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It was another week, another loss and another reason to scratch one's head while wondering, "Why did the Vikings do that?"

This particular episode unfolded with the Vikings facing first-and-goal from the Broncos' 6-yard line with eight seconds left in the first half Sunday. The Vikings led 12-7 when they called timeout to take one shot into the end zone before settling for a field goal.

So far, so good.

The confusing part came next, when the personnel package included Greg Camarillo, Jim Kleinsasser and Joe Webb as three of the four receiving targets. For those scoring at home, that's a No. 4 receiver, a blocking tight end and a backup quarterback. Combined catches this season: six.

Camarillo was lined up to the left. Kleinsasser was the H-back in motion. Webb was stacked to the right with Devin Aromashodu, who had caught five balls for 74 yards in the first half.

Standing somewhere on the sideline was 6-6 pass-catching tight end Kyle Rudolph -- who had reached over the head of safety Quinton Carter to steal a red-zone touchdown in a SportsCenter moment three minutes earlier -- and leading receiver Percy Harvin, who actually was called out of the huddle when Webb was sent onto the field.

So far, so not good.

Quarterback Christian Ponder rolled right and threw the ball away through the back corner of the end zone. Webb was the intended target, but he was covered by cornerback Champ Bailey.

Said Fox announcer Thom Brennaman: "Kyle Rudolph is your biggest, strongest offensive target. Percy Harvin is your best offensive player. Both of them, when you're taking a shot into the end zone, are standing on the sideline next to the coach. That's hard to understand."

To which Fox analyst and former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick responded: "Yeah, you just have too much time to think this stuff up as coaches."

Thursday, Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was given his chance to defend his choices of personnel packages in the red zone.

"I think we're trying to get all of our guys on the field, whether it be Joe Webb or Lorenzo Booker or [Visanthe] Shiancoe or Percy or Toby [Gerhart]," Musgrave said. "We've got a number of good guys and we can only have 11 of them on the field at once."

Rudolph was on the field for only one of eight snaps inside the Broncos' 20-yard line. That one snap produced the 19-yard highlight-reel touchdown, the only time Rudolph was targeted Sunday.

Coach Leslie Frazier said Rudolph's limited snaps in the red zone were the result of the quadriceps injury that caused Rudolph to miss a game and nearly two full weeks of practices leading up to the Broncos game.

"Part of what we went through last week was just trying to figure out if he was going to play or not," Frazier said. "We had a game plan if he did and if he didn't. We have some things in place for him in the red zone. Some we were able to get to and some we weren't."

Rudolph has 18 catches for 196 yards (10.9) and two touchdowns this season. The rookie second-round draft pick said there's a chemistry that has developed between him and Ponder, the team's first-round draft pick. But Rudolph has only nine catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns in the five games that Rudolph has played and Ponder has started.

"Kyle is one of our playmakers," Musgrave said. "We want to try and throw it to him as often as humanly possible. Just like all of our other playmakers, we want to get them their touches. We look forward to doing that this year and in the future."

Rudolph has been targeted 24 times this season, 14 by Ponder.

"I just do as I'm told and as my role continues to expand, I'll embrace that," Rudolph said. "All that's up to coach Frazier and coach Musgrave."

Teammates certainly have taken notice of Rudolph's hands and catching radius. And it started long before he wowed them with the TD grab on Sunday.

"Love him," Harvin said. "He's a freak athlete. He's probably got ... the best hands as far as catching the ball that I've ever seen. He makes tremendous catches. He's big, strong, all the things you want in a skillful tight end. We just got to find a way to get him on the field a little more and get him into the mix."

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