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Season Review, TE's: Rudolph's Injury Opens Doors For Others

View the top 20 images of Vikings tight ends from the 2014 season.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings tight ends shared the load to make a solid contribution in 2014, and their numbers in the passing game could rise next year.

Kyle Rudolph, who missed a total of eight starts because of injuries, led the group with 24 catches and two touchdowns and finished with 231 yards. The injuries included a sports hernia that was suffered in Week 3 and required surgery. Rudolph returned to the lineup seven games later, trying to play his way back into form that led to a contract extension during 2014 training camp. He also suffered knee and ankle injuries in Week 14 that sidelined him the next start.

The injuries to Rudolph led to opportunities for Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison to each set career highs in receptions and yards. Former Gopher MarQueis Gray spent eight games of the season on the Vikings 53-man roster as a reserve tight end.

Ford had 23 catches for 258 yards and his first career touchdown catch, providing a momentum-changing score late in the first half against Washington. Ford was close to having another big score late in the first half at Miami but was ruled out of bounds shy of the goal line.

Ellison, who is first known for his blocking ability, had 19 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown at Chicago and delivered one of the most gritty 10-yard gains involving a forward pass in Detroit. Ellison started the play to the left of Bridgewater, who was in the shotgun formation. Ellison kicked out to the left and caught a short throw behind the line of scrimmage. He absorbed a diving tackle attempt by Ezekiel Ansah with a spin move and powered through two other Lions before linebacker Tahir Whitehead brought him down after another 180 degree rotation.

Vikings tight ends combined for 67 catches, 713 yards and four touchdowns, which was 20.8 percent of Minnesota's receptions, about 20 percent of its receiving yards and 23.5 percent of passing TDs. There's never a guarantee of avoiding injuries, but the stats could increase next season and beyond.

Rudolph, Ford and Ellison are poised to benefit from a second year in Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner's system. Turner has had substantial success with tight ends throughout his NFL career with multi-time Pro Bowlers like Jay Novacek in Dallas and Antonio Gates in San Diego, as well as with less-likely household name players like Stephen Alexander in Washington and Randy McMichael in Miami and later San Diego.

The Vikings triumvirate can also benefit from the way that Teddy Bridgewater showed during his rookie season that he doesn't mind spreading the ball across the field to multiple targets and his progression in the system.

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