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Updated: August 9th, 2011 12:41pm
Kyle Rudolph gets chance, stumbles in Visanthe Shiancoe's place

Kyle Rudolph gets chance, stumbles in Visanthe Shiancoe's place

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Visanthe Shiancoe's hamstring injury opened extra opportunities on Tuesday for Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who looked every bit like a rookie still feeling his way through his first NFL training camp.

Rudolph took one pass off his chin in 7-on-7. He took another off his chest in goal line, although he said that ball was tipped. He also false started on a play in 4-minute, then failed to finish a block on the next play that allowed Adrian Peterson to get stopped for a 5-yard loss.

"You have to capitalize and make the most of every opportunity," Rudolph said. "These are great reps for me. Personally ... I'm a little rusty. It's been since October for me, and to get out there and get as many reps as possible, it's definitely helping me getting into football shape."

A second-round pick (43rd overall) in April, Rudolph had his junior season at Notre Dame cut short last fall by a hamstring tendon avulsion that required surgery.

He made two trips to work out this spring with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder in Florida and also spent time at Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald's group workouts on the "U" campus. But the NFL lockout wiped out all formal offseason practices, meaning Rudolph hadn't been in a true football setting for roughly 10 months before the Vikings opened practice last week.

The challenge is "just feeling fluid and feeling smooth," Rudolph said, "especially in the run game, when you're working so many combo blocks and working with other people. You get on the same page with them and then things work just so much smoother, versus working against one each other and hurting one another."

Rudolph figures to continue to get plenty of opportunities until Shiancoe -- who was injured in Monday's practice and also battled hamstring trouble last year -- gets back on the field. Their receiving skill sets are similar and their roles relatively interchangeable, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, whereas Jimmy Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan are built for inline and H-back work.

"We're trying to put (Rudolph) in a position where he can beat man coverage," Musgrave said. "He's a tough guy for DBs to handle, because he's big and he can move and when he catches the ball he's a lot like Tony Gonzalez -- he catches it out there away from his body. So, we're going to try to create mismatches for him and continue to utilize a guy like that. We'd be silly not to."

Scouts say blocking and durability are the questions about Rudolph. Hands aren't supposed to be an issue, and he's a massive target at 6-foot-5¾ and 266 pounds.

The Joe Webb pass that hit Rudolph's chest drew loud groans from fans, who have watched the offense struggle since camp began. But Rudolph laughed it off, saying if anything, it's a sign he needs to get more work with his new quarterbacks.

"I wouldn't let the ball just hit me in the chest," Rudolph said. "I'd like to say I'm more coordinated than that. (Abdullah) made a great play, and that's something that, when me and Joe Webb can get on the same page, it'll work nine times out of 10."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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