After Pro Bowl season, Vikings want Kyle Rudolph to be more vocal
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph grew up watching guys like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez when he began playing the position at 14 years old.
Almost 10 years later, Rudolph emerged as one of the most trustworthy redzone targets in the NFL last season and got the chance to play alongside Witten at the Pro Bowl.
"Spending the whole week with Jason Witten and being able to pick his brain, get advice from him, kind of bring that back here and add to my game," Rudolph said. "I'd be lucky to have the career [Witten] has had."
Rudolph, 23, is on track to become one of the league's elite tight ends if he can pick up where he left off from last year -- leading the Vikings with nine of their 18 touchdown receptions.
Since Rudolph has grown to fit the Vikings' system so well, coach Leslie Frazier said the next progression he wants to see is Rudolph becoming more of a vocal leader to his teammates.
"Some of the things that happened in that Pro Bowl, I really believe increased [Rudolph's] confidence and him knowing: 'I can play with the best,'" Frazier said. "He's become more assertive from a vocal standpoint, still not a loud guy."
Rudolph said Frazier talked to him at the end of last season about expectations for his third year and about being more vocal, even with running back Adrian Peterson leading the offense.
"That's not really my spot as a vocal leader," Rudolph said. "If I see something that needs to be said, I'm definitely more comfortable saying it now than say my rookie year. For me, it's just always been go out there and lead by example."
Frazier wants to see Rudolph change his tune, maybe crank up the volume.
"He's grown in that role as a leader," Frazier said. "That's going to take a little time, but you can see he's grown in that area."
Rudolph has polished his run-blocking ability while still running downfield on his way to becoming one of the more well-versed tight ends in the league.
If he's is not blocking on a run or receiver screen, he's tasked with protecting quarterback Christian Ponder, either on the line or in the backfield during some shotgun formations, or he's catching touchdown passes as one of the Vikings' few tested targets.
"There aren't many guys in our league anymore that are doing the run blocking and the pass catching," Rudolph said. "You see guys with giant pass numbers, but aren't asked to do much in run blocking and visa versa."
After his Pro Bowl year, Rudolph has remained quiet and grounded despite outshining every other tight end when he grabbed the Pro Bowl MVP in late January.
"It might sound crazy, but I've always had the same expectations," Rudolph said. "Even coming in as a rookie, I always want to be the best and I work everyday to be the best tight end in this league."