Even when he’s not the quarterback’s primary read, the tight end in Norv Turner’s offense often ends up as an attractive, chain-moving option for the quarterback.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was trying to explain that very point when he used the first offensive snap of the second preseason game against Tampa Bay as an example. The play resulted in a tempo-setting 18-yard completion that looked predetermined to go to Rudolph over the middle.
“We ran that play three or four times in practice the week before the game, and I didn’t get the ball one time,” Rudolph said. “Then we go out there and Tampa Bay does something a little different than we expected and the ball comes right to me.”
Turner is in his 31st season as an NFL coach and second as Vikings offensive coordinator. His system has been called quarterback-friendly. It’s been a favorite of receivers. Running backs have thrived in it, too. But don’t overlook the shifting, motioning and stress-inducing situations Turner has created with the likes of Jay Novacek in Dallas, Antonio Gates in San Diego, Vernon Davis in San Francisco and a now-finally-healthy Rudolph.
“I first coached against Norv 18 years ago when he was in Washington,” Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “All that shifting and motioning and putting them in the backfield and that sort of thing creates a lot of uneasiness for defenses a lot of times.”
Put a cornerback in coverage and Turner is likely to use the tight end as an edge-sealing blocker. Put a bigger linebacker out there and Turner can send the tight end on a seam-busting route down the field.
“When you’re moving and shifting, it forces the defense to really be on point with their checks and communication,” Rudolph said. “On the road, sure, it’s loud for us, but the defense also has to communicate as well. A lot of times, when we’re on point with our shifts and motions, you see guys run free off the line.”
Turner also will use his tight end in crossing routes to help free receivers crossing from the other direction. Rudolph pointed to a 26-yard completion to Jarius Wright in the Bucs preseason game as an example.
“On that play, that’s my job,” Rudolph said. “It’s to pretty much make sure Jarius gets open behind the route I’m running.”
Then there’s what Rudolph himself can do with the ball. His first four catches this preseason notched four first downs.
“I feel great, and I’m excited because this time last year, I was fighting through the sports hernia,” said Rudolph, who missed 15 games because of injuries the past two years. “My expectations are very high. We have so many big-time threats. It’s not possible to take away all the options that we have.”