Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Kyle Rudolph could be the latest tight end to thrive under new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner

Posted by: Matt Vensel under Vikings Updated: April 7, 2014 - 10:07 AM

It sure sounds like Kyle Rudolph is excited to get back to work today -- and for good reason.

Norv Turner, the new Vikings offensive coordinator and one of the NFL’s most respected play-callers, has a history of turning tight ends into stars and he also helped one future Hall-of-Famer shine even brighter.

Antonio Gates had already established himself as one of the NFL’s top tight ends before Turner arrived in San Diego, and Turner continued to feature Gates, especially in the red zone. Gates scored at least seven touchdowns in each of his six seasons with Turner and had a career-high 1,157 receiving yards in 2009. In addition to being a red-zone threat, Gates was a field-stretcher. He averaged 15.0 yards per catch in 2009 and 2010, the highest two-season average of a career that will get his bust bronzed in Canton.

Gates isn’t the only tight end to benefit from a working relationship with Turner.

With Turner coordinating the prolific Dallas Cowboys offense from 1991 to 1993, Jay Novacek caught 171 passes -- a lot for a tight end back then -- and made the first three of his five Pro Bowl appearances.

In stints with the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, Turner didn’t have tight ends who put up “Madden”-type numbers. But the position has been a highly-productive one in his offense since he became the San Diego Chargers’ head coach in 2007.

Watching Gates score all those touchdowns probably had a lot to do with that.

After Turner joined the Cleveland Browns’ staff in 2013, third-year Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, who like Gates was a former college basketball player, blossomed with Turner orchestrating the offense. Cameron’s receptions quadrupled from 2012 to 2013 as he caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. And he had 11 receptions of 20 or more yards, which ranked sixth among NFL tight ends.

Cameron did a sizable chunk of his damage when flexed out into the slot, just like Gates has done with the Chargers. According to Pro Football Focus, Cameron ran 375 of his 622 routes -- 60.3 percent -- out of the slot last season. Only Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons lined up as a slot receiver more often among qualifying tight ends.

Meanwhile, Rudolph, who passed up basketball scholarships to play tight end at Notre Dame, ran 40.2 percent of his routes out of the slot before suffering a season-ending broken foot after eight games and 37.1 percent the season before.

While Rudolph got a Pro Bowl nod in 2012 (and was named Pro Bowl MVP), he hasn’t really been featured as a vertical threat. He has averaged just 9.7 yards per catch through three NFL seasons.

But based on how Turner utilized Gates and Cameron, we can expect Rudolph to be less of a traditional in-line tight end and line up in the slot more frequently.

We’ll see if it results in an uptick statistically, but Turner’s history suggests we should probably expect that, too.

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
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