Notebook: Rudolph Praises Downing, Embraces 2018 Expectations

EAGAN, Minn. — Kyle Rudolph has a new position coach for the fourth time in four seasons.

Todd Downing is now the Vikings tight ends coach as Clancy Barone, the tight ends coach in 2017, is now the co-offensive line coach following the tragic passing of Tony Sparano.

Although the move is recent, Rudolph had rave reviews for Downing, who was Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2017. Downing, a Minnesota native, joined the Vikings staff in 2001 as an intern and has been an offensive coach ever since at numerous stops around the league.

Kevin Stefanski coached Vikings tight ends from 2014-15, Pat Shurmur opened 2016 with the position group before his promotion to interim offensive coordinator. After the interim tag was lifted from Shurmur for 2017, Barone was hired.

Rudolph said the transition from Barone to Downing has been smooth.

“It’s been good. Obviously he’s got a ton of coaching experience in this league, a ton of experience in different offenses and then he was an offensive coordinator last year,” Rudolph said of Downing. “He really has expertise in the pass game, and then he’s leaned on Clancy in terms of run-game terminology and techniques.

“We have a pretty veteran tight end group, and we’re able to carry on what we’ve learned from Clancy over the last year,” Rudolph added. “It will be something that we learn together.”

Rudolph put together a Pro Bowl season in 2017, totaling 57 receptions for 532 yards and tying for the team lead with eight receiving touchdowns.

He was an integral part of the team that went 13-3, won the NFC North and advanced to the NFC title game, but Rudolph said heightened expectations for the 2018 season don’t bother him one bit.

“We expect to win a championship every time we come out here. That’s why we play this game,” Rudolph said. “I’ve said it numerous times, but our goal is to bring the first championship to this organization. If that’s not your expectation, then you don’t need to be out here.

“I promise you our expectations as a team are light-years ahead of fan expectations or media expectations,” Rudolph added.

Murray feels ‘*ahead of the game this time around’*

What a difference a year makes for Latavius Murray.

A year ago at this time, the Vikings running back wasn’t participating in training camp drills and was usually seen off to the side trying to get back to full health following offseason ankle surgery.

Murray is a full-go in 2018, and spoke to reporters Sunday about how much better he feels this time around as he enters his second season with the Vikings.

“When you’re healthy, you’re able to improve and get better,” Murray said. “One of the things I wasn’t able to do out last year was come out in training camp, get on the field and get better physically, be involved.

“You really grow when you’re in the game, when you’re involved, when you’re able to get real, live action,” Murray added. “So I think that was maybe a thing that kind of, I wasn’t able to do last year, obviously, so I’m ahead of the game this time around, compared to this time last year.”

Murray got better as the season progressed in 2017, and finished with team-highs in carries (216), rushing yards (842) and rushing touchdowns (eight).

With Dalvin Cook returning from an ACL injury, Murray said he’s excited to see what kind of 1-2 punch the duo can bring in Minnesota’s offense.

“The only thing I can do is control what I can control, come out here, practice hard, get better and try to improve as a runner,” Murray said. “I’m confident that the rest will work itself out, but for Dalvin and me, we know that competing is important and making each other better. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

Harry the film critic

Harrison Smith is keeping his game plan close to the vest.

The All-Pro safety was asked after Sunday’s walk-through what specific details he worked on in the offseason as he heads into his seventh pro season.

“Harry the Hitman” didn’t bite.

“There’s a lot of things, but I don’t really want to touch on them,” Smith said. “I always go back and watch myself individually to see [how I could have] tackled better, covered better, given help in areas.

“Those are the things I look at,” Smith added.

So, exactly how many hours of film did the three-time Pro Bowl watch this offseason?

“Oh, I don’t know,” Smith said. “It’s different in the offseason when you’re not game-planning for someone … it’s more like [being] critical of yourself.

“Sometimes you forget what was going on that week,” Smith said.

Smith had 93 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with 1.5 sacks and a team high five interceptions in 2017.

Zimmer: ‘I jump in and they jump out’

The mood was a bit testy Sunday as offensive tackle Aviante Collins and linebacker Devante Downs briefly mixed it up in the middle of practice.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told beat reporters after practice that things died down real quick when he wandered over to the festivities.

“Yeah, well, we had a little discussion about that out there,” Zimmer quipped. “I jump in, and they jump out … they’ll know I’m there.”

Legend on the sideline

Jeff Siemon, one of the 50 Greatest Vikings, attended Sunday afternoon’s practice. Siemon racked up 1,382 tackles in 11 seasons with the Vikings, third-most in franchise history.

Play of the day

Blake Bell showed off his hands Sunday as he hauled in an acrobatic, leaping catch on the left sideline on a pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian.

The tight end managed to get both feet in bounds as the closest officials signaled for a catch.

The crowd let out a, ‘Woooah!’ as Bell completed the catch.

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