While a lot of focus has been on the return of Adrian Peterson to the Vikings offense, there’s no question that if tight end Kyle Rudolph can play a full season for the first time since 2012, he could have as big of an impact on this team as anyone, and that includes Peterson or quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
In Rudolph’s first two years with the Vikings, he caught 79 passes for 742 yards with 12 touchdowns over 31 games, missing only one contest. Over his past two seasons he has caught 54 passes for 544 yards with five touchdowns in 17 games, sitting out eight games in 2013 and seven last year because of injury.
Rudolph had sports hernia surgery last season and never looked like himself. He couldn’t get fully healthy after battling other injuries throughout the season.
“I had surgery in late September after the Saints game, it was Week 4 was my surgery,” he said. “I had sports hernias in both hips, so I had both hips operated on. I missed about six games in the middle and then I had a knee and ankle that made me miss the Dolphins game [in Week 16].”
Still, the 25-year-old, a 2011 second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, says that he is healthy now and getting ready for training camp. In order to do that, Rudolph has worked on trying to increase his durability during the offseason.
He spent most of the offseason in California with performance coach J.T. Wright and Proactive Sports Performance. Bridgewater, wide receiver Charles Johnson, fellow tight end Brandon Bostick and running back Jerick McKinnon joined him in California for some of those workouts.
“Just doing more things to be more durable so when my body is put in these awkward situations, I’m not getting hurt as much, and doing everything I can to play 16 games,” he said.
Rudolph was the Pro Bowl MVP in 2012 and looked on his way to becoming one of the best tight ends in the NFL, and he hopes that he’s getting back to that level.
“It is frustrating [getting injured], but it is part of our game,” he said. “Hopefully all of my bad luck is behind me and I got the injuries out of the way and I’ll stay healthy for a lot of years in a row.”
The Vikings and Rudolph certainly both hope that’s the case, as the tight end signed a five-year extension in 2014 worth around $40 million.
Connecting with Bridgewater
In Rudolph’s four-year Vikings career, he has caught passes from Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman and Bridgewater. The hope is that there might be some stability at quarterback with Bridgewater, and Rudolph likes what he sees from the 2014 first-round pick.
“Teddy has done a great job coming in last year, kind of unexpected when Matt got hurt, he just seemed to get better and better as the year went on,” Rudolph said. “He has done a lot this offseason to get bigger and stronger, and also going into his second year, he’s a lot more comfortable.”
And how does Rudolph feel about the large group of tight ends the Vikings have accumulated? Bostick was claimed off waivers after two seasons with the Packers and MyCole Pruitt was drafted in the fifth round to go along with veterans Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford.
“The tight end position in this offense is important, as are a few other pieces that all fit together in this puzzle of [offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s] offense, and you know when you have guys playing at a high level, it just makes everyone around you better.”
As for Peterson, Rudolph said having him back should benefit the team in several ways. “It will [help], not only on the field but having a veteran guy like that in the locker room who has been around for a long time,” he said. “Everyone knows the impact he has on the field, but it will also be good having his leadership back.”
What does Rudolph think of the team in Year 2 under coach Mike Zimmer?
“We have to make a big step from last year,” he said. “We improved from 2013, but we feel like we need to make that next jump. Being 7-9 and missing the playoffs, we can’t be satisfied with just getting better this past year. We have to build on that and hopefully contend for a division title.”
Great Wolves addition
Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders believes Nemanja Bejlica can make quite an impact in his first NBA season.
“You don’t get to be MVP of the Euro-league without having produced and doing something,” Saunders said. “I don’t know if he’ll have the total impact of say, like a Karl-Anthony [Towns]. … If Nemanja was in the draft, and 22 instead of 27, that he would have been a top-10 or top-15 player drafted. Those types of players are usually going to be rotation-type players that can play for you.
“What he does is, he’s different than anybody we have. He can put the ball on the floor, he can shoot the three, he can run pick and rolls at 6-9 or 6-10, he can make plays. He’s different than a lot of the players we have, which should help him in being able to get some playing time.”
• Torii Hunter said he can play next year, but the Twins right fielder, who hit his first home run as a 40-year-old Friday night against the Yankees, is not interested in any contract negotations until the season is over. Incidentally, Torii Hunter Jr. is expected to be a starting wide receiver for Notre Dame this fall.
• Now that University of Minnesota officials have made it clear the new Gophers track stadium will not be on the Les Bolstad Golf Course, the odds are very high that it will be built on the open land where the grain elevators are located across from TCF Bank Stadium.
• How active is Gophers football coach Jerry Kill in the offseason? He made 22 public appearances over June and July, including speaking at one of the highest-ranked high school clinics in Texas. And another indication of his popularity and knowledge is that he spoke at an Alabama clinic last year.
• The Gophers lost their first in-state 2016 football recruit in Breck wide receiver Ramaud Chiakhiao-Bowman, a student with a 4.0 grade-point average who decided to go to Northwestern. The latest GPA numbers available for the Wildcats football team come from the 2013 season, when their players had a GPA just over 3.0, while the Gophers’ GPA for 2014 was exactly the same.
• Construction will begin shortly on the Gophers baseball batting cage at a cost of $1 million, with $500,000 contributed by Twins star and former Gophers pitcher Glen Perkins and another $500,000 coming from Dick McCullough, who played for the 1964 NCAA champion Gophers. … Longtime Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes, who had a setback in his bout with cancer, is now completely healthy and coaching again. … Patrick Casey, a grandson of former Twins public address announcer Bob Casey, joined the Gophers staff as a volunteer assistant.