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Kyle Rudolph: From Learner to Leader

When Kyle Rudolph came to Minnesota as a rookie, his primary goal was learning from his veteran teammates. It wasn't until later that he realized he may join them in the record books.

Last week at Chicago, Rudolph hauled in five catches, totaling 213 career receptions and bypassing former tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who tallied 208 catches during his time in Minnesota, for 16th all-time. With just four more touchdowns needed to pass six-time Pro Bowler Steve Jordan, it's a number Rudolph has recently considered.

"The stats aren't something that, when I came here I thought, 'Oh, I'd love to be an all-time record holder in these categories," Rudolph said. "A lot of these are getting brought up as I'm getting closer to them. But it's awesome to be right up there with those guys and to be noticed and named in the same sentence."


Rudolph is grateful to not only be included in conversations with Shiancoe but to have also shared a locker room with him. The two overlapped during Rudolph's debut season in 2011. Rudolph first met Shiancoe – along with Jim Kleinsasser (1999-2011) and Jeff Dugan, who was with the Vikings through the 2011 offseason – when he arrived in Minnesota after being drafted 43rd overall. Rudolph passed Kleinsasser's 192 career receptions in Week 3 at Carolina during a seven-catch, 70-yard game that included a touchdown.

"Between those three guys, you had nine years, nine years and 13 years of NFL experience," Rudolph said. "They were great to me – not only being hard on me as a rookie, making me do my 'rookie duties,' but then also teaching me the ropes.

"They really took me under their wings […] in terms of getting established in this league and learning how things go," Rudolph added. "That made everything in my second year seem so much easier because I'd been through it all."

The torch was passed to Rudolph in 2012, when he assumed the starting tight end position he continues to occupy.

In just his second season, Rudolph was viewed by teammates as a leader in the locker room. He's taken that responsibility seriously from day one.

"I've always been of the mindset of leading by example," Rudolph said. "And not only being professional at the building but professional off the field and in the community as well."

Whether it is through mentoring younger players, speaking up in the team meeting room or taking the lead for community events at the U of M Masonic Children's Hospital, Rudolph has noticed a development in his leadership style over the years.

"As we're here in my sixth year, which I can't believe, you kind of develop the more vocal aspect of things," Rudolph said. It's always been easy for me to lead by example and do the right thing, but being a vocal leader and being a guy that can go to guys and try to elevate their game is something I've had to learn over my career."

At 26, Rudolph is no longer considered a spring chicken by NFL standards.

"As we get younger and younger as a team, when you're a guy that's been around six years and you're looked at as one of the older guys on the team, I just try to make sure that I'm there for the young guys," Rudolph said. "It wasn't long ago that I was in their shoes, and I remember what it was like."

Bringing up Bradford

Most recently, Rudolph took a new teammate – albeit an older one – under his wing.

The few days following Teddy Bridgewater's season-ending injury were a blur. When the Vikings traded picks on Sept. 3 to bring in Sam Bradford, Rudolph's elder by two years and a day, Rudolph said he made an effort to be there for the new quarterback in whatever way possible.

"Being in this system for three years, I feel like I have a pretty good handle around it," said Rudolph, who offered support across the board, from the playbook to the layout of the facility itself. "Just anything I could to help him and make his transition from Philly to here that much easier, so he could just worry about going out and playing football."

As it turns out, Rudolph and Bradford play football pretty well together.

Bradford's first start in purple came Week 2, Minnesota's home opener that saw the Vikings defeat the division-rival Packers.

On third-and-4 in the second quarter, Bradford stepped back in the pocket, looked pressure in the face, and fired with precision. He connected with Rudolph, who snagged the perfectly placed 8-yard pass in the end zone over Packers safety Morgan Burnett.


Rudolph, who also grabbed the first preseason touchdown at U.S. Bank Stadium, said it was special to have the first end zone moment "that counted" in their new home.

"It was fun, because it was actually a play that we had watched that Sam liked and wanted to get called," Rudolph said. "You'll always be in Vikings history in that stadium, and kind of being around and seeing it go up, playing outside for two years, just everything that goes along with the stadium, and then having the first Vikings touchdown in it is pretty cool."

Immediately after scoring, the two made another exchange – this time Rudolph handed the touchdown ball to Bradford, his first as a Viking.

"He did all the work; I just caught the ball," Rudolph said. "So I thought that he deserved it."

In addition to that play, Bradford has connected with Rudolph 26 times and for another two scores.

Adapting to a brand-new passer in such a stunted period of time can be challenging, but Rudolph has taken the process in stride. After all, Bradford is the eighth quarterback from whom Rudolph has caught a pass in six regular seasons.

"As you transition from each quarterback, as a skill position player, it's really just about getting as many reps as possible," Rudolph said. "The only way to get on the same page with a quarterback is getting out there on the practice field and throwing it. So our offensive staff has been awesome in terms of making sure that we were able to get on the same page and play catchup with [Sam].

"He's a great guy, and he wants to be really, really good," Rudolph added. "He puts the time and the work in, and when you have guys like that, especially at that position, I think it kind of trickles down throughout our whole offense."

To Rudolph, Bradford's presence in the locker room means more than gaining a talented teammate to help guide the offense. It's a show of faith in the 2016 Vikings potential.

"We bring in a guy who's a former No. 1 overall pick and a Heisman Trophy winner – he's über talented," Rudolph said. "It's creating excitement out there for us, knowing that the organization is willing to go out and give up a first-round pick for a guy because they think that we have a chance of being really good right now."

Spinning the Wheel

One individual with weight in the Bradford decision is Vikings tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who was **promoted to interim offensive coordinator** Wednesday.  

Rudolph said he was excited to learn that Shurmur would be the new position coach for 2016. Shurmur's NFL experience is extensive, including time as both an offensive coordinator and a head coach.

According to Rudolph, Shurmur is a coach who not only understands offense but also understands the dynamics of working with a group of men.


"He knows how to visualize and see things globally from an offensive standpoint," Rudolph said. "[He's added] some new things that we hadn't done in the past, but as he said when he got here, 'The wheel spins great. I just want to make it spin a little bit better.' "

Rudolph said whether it's his first year in the league or his sixth, he's always learning, and Shurmur has been instrumental in improving Rudolph as an athlete.

In turn, Shurmur has nothing but praise for Rudolph, whom he followed during his college days and first five seasons in Minnesota before having the opportunity to coach him.

Shurmur said his role with the Vikings has granted him an "even greater appreciation" of Rudolph.

"I knew when we evaluated him coming out of Notre Dame that he was going to be an outstanding player, but he's a better receiver than I could have imagined," Shurmur said. "He catches the ball extremely well when he's in traffic and is a much better blocker than I thought he would be."

Rudolph's team-first mentality impresses Shurmur on a daily basis.

"All skill players want to catch every pass that's thrown. That's just the nature of being a skill player," Shurmur said. "But he understands that there's many other things that are part of his job description that he has to do, and he handles those extremely well."


Twin Additions

Last month, Rudolph added one more job description to his resume: father.


Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, welcomed twin daughters, Andersyn and Finley, to their family on Oct. 4. The new dad couldn't have been happier with the timing of the bye week, which allowed him to be home with the girls for their full second week.

"It's been awesome. They're the most perfect babies," Rudolph said. "They've really spoiled Jordan and I […] I wouldn't have guessed that three weeks into it I'd be getting this much sleep."

Added Rudolph with a laugh: "Which is good, because I love sleep."

Rudolph said his pursuit to be the best player he can be hasn't changed, but his motivation behind that goal has shifted some with the girls' arrival.

"There are two sets of eyes that will always be on me," Rudolph said. "I can only imagine that as these girls get older and they continue to watch, there will just be a little added pressure, but also a little extra support and love that you get when you go home – whether it's after a tough loss or a big win."

Rudolph hopes there's a lot more of the latter in store for this season. While recognizing the obstacles the Vikings have faced through injuries to key players this season, Rudolph's faith in the team is unwavering.

He said he's never been around a team that was so driven and so resilient.

"There's a goal in mind: going and winning a championship," Rudolph said. "No matter what adversity we face, we don't feel that we can be derailed from that goal."

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