While it remains to be seen whether Kirk Cousins and Kyle Rudolph will have a more productive on-field relationship in 2019 than they did in their first season together, the quarterback made a point on Wednesday of underscoring his optimism about Rudolph’s role in the Vikings offense.
Rudolph, who caught 64 passes for 634 yards last year and returned to the Vikings on a five-year contract extension that helped provide the team some cap relief, stood out in Wednesday’s practice with several contested catches that had Cousins saying he needs to trust the tight end more.
“Today, there were probably two or three examples of him catching the ball with a defender draped over him, or pretty close to him,” Cousins said. “Little things like that — building a chemistry with him that, you would have loved to say I did that last year, but I don’t think I did it enough. So that’s been really positive.
“The more you do it, the more you see it, and the more you realize that’s a strength of his. I guess I look back and regret a little bit not doing that more with him last year, and then, hopefully looking forward to giving him more opportunities to make you right, when everything within you is telling you, ‘He’s really not open, but let’s give him a shot.’ ”
A year ago, the Vikings leaned on Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in historic fashion, as the receivers became the first pair of Vikings teammates to post 100 catches in the same season. That approach, Cousins said, might need to change this season.
“I think the challenge, at times, was we did too good a job of getting them the football,” he said. “It made it tough to move the ball elsewhere, because it was so focused on those two — and rightfully so. I mean, they’re two of the best football players on our entire team, and two of the best in the league. But at some point in the season, defensively, I think teams started to try to take them away, and it was tougher. When we have guys healthy, and have other weapons, that’s so important.”
‘Grown up a whole lot’
Heading into the final year of his rookie deal, Mackensie Alexander is hoping to take another step forward as the Vikings’ nickel cornerback. He started six games last year, posting four sacks as a pass rusher who benefited from a number of clean paths to the quarterback and finishing the year with seven tackles for loss. Alexander also broke up a career-high 10 passes, as his coverage skills improved through the season.
“I think a big part of it was that Mackensie has grown up a whole lot since his time here. I think the increased reps and those kinds of things have helped him,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “I think we’re a big pattern match [team] as far as the coverages that we run, understanding the concepts that offenses are trying to attack us with, whether they line up in clusters or line up in stacks, all those different mechanisms that offenses use from week to week. I think being in that situation more now, he’s a lot more comfortable with those things and not so much just worried about his assignment but what he can do to help us as a whole.”