NOTEBOOK: Rudolph Excited by 'Early' Return to Team Drills

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*EAGAN, Minn. — *Kyle Rudolph hasn’t missed a start in the past three seasons.

He has opened 88 of 96 games in the NFL, is a savvy veteran, and Organized Team Activity practices are voluntary, but the tight end didn’t want to miss out on reps.

On Tuesday, Rudolph participated in full-team sessions during Minnesota’s Organized Team Activity practice, the eighth of 10 permitted get-togethers at the team facility before next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp. Tuesday’s session was the only one this week open to the media and second of four this week.

Rudolph credited the Vikings athletic training staff for helping him get ahead of the initial return date and participate for a second consecutive day.

“It is a ton of fun to be back out there competing, for me especially,” Rudolph said. “The plan was for me not to be doing anything right now, so to have the opportunity, thankfully I get to work with the best training staff in our game. They’re the Ed Block Courage Award winners for a reason. They are really good at their job. They got me to a point where I am able to go out there a few weeks early, and it’s good.

“There is nothing worse, and I say this all the time when we talk, than being an athlete and not being able to be out there when the rest of your teammates are working and preparing,” Rudolph added. “This offseason is unique in the fact that we have a new offense, a new system, a new quarterback. I wasn’t getting any better over there by myself, so it is good to be back out there.”

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who enjoyed a “good practice” on his birthday, said Rudolph has “worked real hard” to return to action.

“It’s good to see him out there this week,” Zimmer said. “He got some reps yesterday as well. [Running back Dalvin] Cook got some reps with the team both these last two days, so that’s been good. Our trainers, Eric Sugarman is going a great job, along with Mark Uyeyama with the guys in the weight room.”

It isn’t the first time that Rudolph has quickly returned to action.

Rudolph suffered an ankle injury in Week 14 at Carolina but managed to hit the field the following Week against Cincinnati. He caught one of his eight touchdowns on the season against his hometown team to help the Vikings clinch the NFC North with a 34-7 win over the Bengals.

Rudolph grinded out the remainder of the season at less-than-full strength and had surgery this offseason, his fifth operation in the past 10 years, which has made him more comfortable in an operating room.* *

“It’s funny when you sit there. The nurses are getting ready for pre-op, and the doctors are talking to you, I honestly feel like I’m in the dentist office getting my teeth cleaned,” Rudolph said. “It’s so routine at this point, I think at times, your family and friends are more worried about it than you are. At least for me, I’m pretty relaxed and thankful that I have the best foot and ankle guy in the world right here across the way [at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center] to take care of me and make sure everything will be good.” 

Rudolph said the 10 OTAs and three minicamp practices are particularly helpful for a Vikings offense with new Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“This game is special in the fact that we get 10 times here in OTAs, three times in minicamp, and that’s it for the entire offseason,” Rudolph said. “It’s not like basketball or baseball where you can go play pickup or go in the batting cages and take some cuts whenever you want. We only have 13 times to go out there and compete against our defense, so it’s good to be out there competing against the best defense in football.” 

Rudolph has made a quick impression on Cousins. When the quarterback was Wired last week for Vikings.com, he said throwing to Rudolph is like throwing to a mattress, a compliment for the way the tight end who has 322 receptions and 37 touchdowns catches footballs with ease. 

“That is a new one for me,” Rudolph said when asked about the comparison. “I’m OK with it. Try to make sure that he’s always getting a good night’s sleep, always be there for him. That is kind of my role around here. I’ll have to find out what kind of mattress he likes, what his Sleep Number is. Hopefully, it is 82, and we’re good.”

*Robison ready for anything — almost *

The Vikings lined up Cook on the back of a diamond formation with receivers during one play in the red zone on Tuesday. Cousins took the snap and fired toward Cook, but Brian Robison batted the ball down at the line of scrimmage.

“You don’t look at the quarterback,” Robison said. “You play your keys. I’ve been in this league, for going on 12 years now, so I’ve kind of seen it all. It doesn’t mean I’ve learned everything I can learn, but when you see things like that, it kind of allows you to react faster.”

One sight that Robison is still adjusting to is the appearance of a few strands of gray in his hair.

“My daughter told me, ‘Your hair is turning white,’ ” Robison said with a usual good-hearted laugh. “I’m 35 years old now, and I still feel mentally that I’m about 15 or 16, so something’s either wrong with my head or my body. I don’t know.”

Robison was asked a follow-up on whether the ponytail he used to sport would have a tinge of gray.

“Yeah, but it would be luscious, though. There’s no doubt about it,” Robison said. 

Robison said the talent on the Vikings offense and new system are presenting the defense that ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed and points allowed in 2017 with fresh learning opportunities.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons on the offensive side,” Robison said. “The things that they’re doing have changed from year to year. It kind of allows us to see a broad spectrum of plays and the way the offense likes to do things, so that keeps us on our toes. It’s evolving, as far as our learning process.”

One corner on another 

Just five years ago, Xavier Rhodes was a first-round pick making the transition to the pros.

Rhodes, who has evolved into an All-Pro, on Tuesday was asked about 2018 first-round selection Mike Hughes. 

“He’s willing to learn,” Rhodes said. “Some rookies have a hard time taking advice from some other players. He’s willing to learn. You can tell he’s just open to anything you tell him.”

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