As Kyle Rudolph looked around Winter Park, he spotted new coaches and new teammates. The weight room in which he had just worked up a sweat has been revamped, and he was about to grab a chair in the team’s new meeting room inside the fieldhouse.
But despite all the change swirling around him, the place still feels like home.
And he wants it to stay that way.
Rudolph is entering the final year of his rookie contract and would like remain with the Vikings beyond 2014. But the 24-year-old tight end said Tuesday that the team, which still has approximately $10 million in salary cap space after a busy offseason, has not approached him about a contract extension.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here, from the top down, in our organization,” Rudolph said. “I think we have the best owners in football. They’re willing to do anything for us to win. Everybody in the front office, the new staff, I really like the direction this team is going in. I’m excited to be a part of that future.”
Rudolph also sounds pumped up about the present. The left foot he fractured last November has been fully healed for about two months, and he has been studying tape of the Cleveland Browns from last season so he can get a feel for how he will be utilized in new coordinator Norv Turner’s offense. Tight ends such as Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron produced impressive numbers in three different decades with Turner calling the plays.
“I hope to fall in line with that,” Rudolph said. “I’m excited to get into this offense.”
Because of restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement, Vikings players weren’t able to talk about football with coach Mike Zimmer and his staff until their offseason program began last week.
More than 40 players arrived bright and early Tuesday for voluntary workouts. They started in the weight room with new head strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus, who favors free weights over the machines that the previous regime preferred. Then after performing position-specific exercises on the field, they ducked behind the long, black curtains into the new team meeting room that Zimmer pushed for, which features stadium seating and a projection screen that is the biggest in the building.
“My first impressions of everybody have been great,” Rudolph said. “From the top down, all the new football coaches, but also the new strength coaches as well. It’s definitely a different system, but I think the change is good so far.”
Those sentiments were echoed by veterans Everson Griffen and Chad Greenway along with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, one of a handful of newcomers.
Rudolph is hoping to bounce back after he was limited to eight games in 2013. He caught 30 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns before injuring his foot in a Week 9 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2012, and another strong season could raise his value, but he is open to discussing a new contract before it starts.
The Vikings have shown patience in similar situations. They extended the contracts of Greenway and running back Adrian Peterson, who has not yet arrived for these voluntary workouts, days before the 2011 season. They re-signed defensive end Brian Robison last October and didn’t hammer out their lucrative extension for Griffen until the weekend before free agency started in March.
Rudolph said that if and when the Vikings want to open negotiations for a new contract, he will listen.
“That’s completely up to them,” he said. “Obviously, I would love to be here for a while, but that’s something you’d have to ask them. It’s all on their terms, obviously.”