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Teddy: Vikings Tight Ends can be Quarterback's Best Friend

MANKATO, Minn. — When Teddy Bridgewater stepped up to the podium Sunday, he sported a T-shirt from Kyle Rudolph's summer football camp.

The quarterback and tight end have supported each other's off-field initiatives and continued to grow together on the field while starting all 16 games together in 2015.

Rudolph led the Vikings with five touchdown catches and ranked second on the team with 49 receptions and 495 yards last season.

Bridgewater said Rudolph and other tight ends — MyCole Pruitt, David Morgan, Kyle Carter and Brian Leonhardt — are thinking like a quarterback. Rhett Ellison is, too, but he's currently sidelined while rehabbing an injury he suffered in Week 17.

"You always hear that the tight end is the quarterback's best friend, and we have a group of guys here who think like quarterbacks. They want to know, 'Hey, why are you not throwing this? And if you're not throwing this, then what's your second read in the progression?'

"Having those kinds of players on your team is very helpful, because you have a second pair of eyes on the field," Bridgewater continued. "When you come off the field, on the sideline, you get to talk to those guys and see what they saw."

Pat Shurmur, who was hired to coach tight ends this offseason, has brought in previous experience as a head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and tight ends/offensive line coach in the NFL. He's seen the way the position group can help offenses from a variety of perspectives and in the big picture.

"If you're going to play good offense, I think you've got to have production out of the tight ends group," Shurmur said. "I think we've got guys that can do things in the passing game and the running game, so it's important that they fine tune it. I sort of agree with Teddy on that, and the fact that he's looking their way will help us."

Bridgewater said he appreciates the variety of things that Rudolph and other Vikings tight ends are showing they can do.

"It helps a lot. All those guys are unique players. There's something about all those guys that stands out, and it's a great group," Bridgewater said. "Those guys have been working extremely hard, just trying to be detailed players, whether it's in the run game or the passing game."

Linebacker Chad Greenway said the tight ends group includes "a bunch of guys that can win 1-on-1s for sure."

"That's obviously a key to that position, especially when we get into a situation on third down and they're pressuring with man-to-man coverages, you have to win, especially inside, give Teddy an easier throw in the middle of the field," Greenway said. "Clearly with Rudy in the red zone and our other guys, we have a bunch of guys in that position that can win."

Rudolph said he wants to take his play to another level this season while helping the total offense. It's helpful that he's coming into the season healthy after missing a total of 15 games from 2013-14.

"In order for us to take the next step, we have to be better in the passing game," Rudolph said. "There will be games where we play really good pass rushers, and I'll need to help out [with blocking rushers] some, but for the most part, we'll have all of that locked down, and I can run down the field and catch balls, but it's so incredible in this league how, week-by-week, things can change.

"That's why, as a tight end, you have to be ready to be involved in the pass game, to be involved in route running and to be involved in the run game," Rudolph added. "For us, it's about trying to get better at each individual thing, and when the time does come and they throw 10 balls your way, you're ready."

Shurmur said he's "certainly been impressed" by Rudolph in the short amount of time they've worked together.

View images from the Sunday, July 31 practice at Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

"I knew of him and remember him coming out of school, and I admire him as a player," Shurmur said. "He's a very veteran guy who knows what we're doing extremely well.

"He had a great offseason and is very fit," Shurmur added. "At least from what I've heard, he's about as healthy as he's been in recent years, and in the past few days, he's had a good start to camp."

Early in camp, the Vikings have incorporated a couple of two-tight end sets with Rudolph and Pruitt working in tandem. They've also lined up multiple places and have shifted around before snaps.

Shurmur said all of the tight ends "are somewhat multiple in what they can do." He liked "flashes" from what he saw Pruitt do in film from his rookie season.

"The challenge for him in his second year is to become more consistent, and I think you saw that in the spring," Shurmur said. "We've got a long way to go before we're a group that's able to do what we want to do, but I think these first three days have been good."

Generally thought of as the Vikings best blocking tight end, Ellison is making an impact in meetings while he is on the mend.

"Rhett is a very veteran guy and he's really good in the meetings," Shurmur said. "He's been helpful for me, in terms of how we function here. Every team functions differently, but he, along with Rudy have been able to get me up to speed. He's working hard with his rehab and doing everything he can to get back on the field and is right there mentally in meetings."

The Vikings also have: Morgan, a sixth-round draft pick; Carter, an undrafted free agent; and Leonhardt, a veteran who is one of seven Minnesotans on the roster.

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