THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — Tight end Kyle Rudolph was able to join Teddy Bridgewater in Arizona when the Vikings QB was announced as Pepsi Rookie of the Year and fully supported the results of the fan vote.
Many of the numbers that led to Bridgewater's selection came later in the season, but Rudolph liked what he saw the first time Bridgewater appeared in a game.
"I don't think there's anyone more deserving," Rudolph said this weekend when he attended the 20th Arctic Blast in northwest Minnesota. "What he was able to do, not really expecting to play this year, and when Matt (Cassel) went down, the presence he had in the New Orleans game on the road, in the Superdome, I knew he was going to have a lot of success this year, and it's great to see that noticed."
Rudolph battled through injuries in his third and fourth pro seasons.
He missed seven games in 2014, requiring in-season surgery, and finished with 24 catches for 231 yards with two touchdowns. This was his first in Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner's system that has often featured talented tight ends as primary passing targets, and he's excited to build on a second season in the scheme.
"It will be huge. I think anytime you implement a new system, a new staff, year two is always going to be better," Rudolph said. We're familiar with each other. They know us, we know them. Now it's about getting better, us individually as players and as a whole, as a team, so I'm excited to get back up here in April and get working with Evan Marcus and Jeff Hurd in our strength program and getting back out on the field in late spring and building toward 2015.
If the past is any indicator, Rudolph's stat line is poised to spike again next season. He had 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie and followed it with 53 receptions for 493 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl and bringing home Honolulu hardware in the form of the Pro Bowl MVP trophy.
One of the great elements of the Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally, in addition to the primary purpose of supporting the Vikings Children's Fund, is the combination of appearances by current players and Vikings greats that included six-time Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan, who ranks third in franchise history with 498 receptions for 6,307 yards and 28 touchdowns, averaging 12.7 yards per catch.
Jordan helped the Vikings aerial attack before many tight ends were heavily involved in the passing game and didn't have the benefit of the defenseless receiver rule.
The stat lines for Rudolph and Jordan in their first four seasons are similar. Rudolph has 133 receptions for 1,286 yards and 17 touchdowns in starting 40 of the 48 games he's played. Jordan posted 124 receptions for 1,463 yards and four touchdowns in starting 33 of his first 53 pro games.
Jordan said he likes the way tight ends are being worked into the passing game across the league.
"I really dig that," Jordan said. "I like what's going on in the NFL and in particular with the tight ends in the NFL these days. I was one of the few guys that was really getting the ball downfield when I was playing, and it seemed to be a little bit of a lull. Now, they're getting a lot of athletic guys and letting the ball rip, so it would be really fun to play now under the circumstances they're playing with."
He said tight ends can be "extremely helpful" for a young quarterback and is looking forward to watching Minnesota's trio of Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford work with Bridgewater.
"They're kind of the security blanket, if you will," Jordan said. "You can check it down to a running back or something like that, but the tight end is usually the one that's going to be hovering around the middle or the flat. It's a high-percentage throw, and for a young quarterback, that's a plus."