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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Seeking balance for Vikings, TE Kyle Rudolph hopes to stand out

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Kyle Rudolph may be one of the most overlooked players when discussing the Vikings’ retooled offensive line.

After losing two starters on the line last preseason, the focus of Rudolph and tight ends turned to the pad-crunching work of blocking, as the coaching staff prioritized extra man power to protect Teddy Bridgewater and open lanes for Adrian Peterson.

Though Rudolph would enjoy a healthy 16-game season, a division title and his best receiving numbers since his 2012 Pro Bowl campaign, much of his duty remained in the trenches for a porous front. So should the Vikings’ main offseason priority — improving the line — come to fruition, then Rudolph stands to benefit by potentially being asked to block less and catch more.

“I’m looking to have the best season of my career,” Rudolph said Tuesday. “We have to get better on the offensive side of the ball and that comes with being more balanced. Not being so run heavy and so dependent on the run game. And I play a part in that.”

Fronted by Peterson’s league-high 327 carries, the Vikings ranked fourth in the NFL with an average of 29.6 rushing attempts per game last season. The offense’s 28.4 passes per game was the fewest among all teams.

General manager Rick Spielman ponied up key resources to address the lackluster passing game, including $10 million guaranteed for left guard Alex Boone in free agency and the team’s first-overall draft pick in receiver Laquon Treadwell.

Yet one of the potential breakthrough weapons has been on the roster in the 26-year-old Rudolph, who shed the injury bug last season to play a full slate for the first time since 2012. He set a career high with 495 receiving yards on 49 receptions, though the Vikings had more in mind when he signed a five-year, $36.5 million extension two years ago.

This year, Rudolph hopes to realize the potential in an offense that led him to call coordinator Norv Turner a “genius” following his 21.3-yard average on seven grabs and a touchdown in the 2014 preseason. A month later, he underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia and played just nine games that season. Now he’s healthy and hopeful for an offense focused on creating a passing attack.

“I take a ton of pride in it,” Rudolph said of being a downfield threat. “That’s what I’m working for each and every year. It’s like chopping on a tree. You just keep swinging and swinging. And one of these years we’ll get there.”

Stand back

During all offseason programs, pads are prohibited under NFL rules. Players are limited to helmets, shorts and just a brush of contact through rookie minicamp, Organized Team Activites and the upcoming mandatory minicamp.

There’s at least one benefit for an aggressive defender like Xavier Rhodes. Cornerbacks can’t engage in press coverage, and receivers can’t practice against it, so Rhodes has been forced to work on one of his weaknesses, which comes in off coverage.

Head coach Mike Zimmer has liked what he’s seen so far from Rhodes’ play off the line.

“His strength was always bump and run,” Zimmer said Tuesday. “This is the first spring where I feel like he’s really improved off coverage.”

Rhodes, 25, is entering his fourth NFL season and looking for a better start than last year, when he allowed five touchdowns in the first seven games. He was also flagged seven times in the opening four games. Rhodes eventually evened out and continued to shadow opponents’ top receivers, including Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson and Alshon Jeffery.

“It just takes a little while in off coverage,” Zimmer said. “Because there’s air in the coverage, which makes it a little bit more difficult for the defenders…I’m pushing them to be better in off coverage.”

Dust, not rust

Tackle Phil Loadholt said he’s still “knocking off the dust” as the team wraps up OTAs this week.
    Loadholt, 30, is coming off his second season-ending injury in as many years. The 6-foot-8-inch lineman tore his left Achilles tendon in the second preseason game last year. While it’s been a long road back, Loadholt continues to declare himself fully healthy.

      “I’m very confident in it,” Loadholt said of his repaired Achilles on Tuesday. “I haven’t had too many ups and downs. I’ve actually been able to do a lot of stuff before we started this. I think the training staff has been great at preparing me to be able to practice two, three, four days in a row. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

        On a restructured contract that cut his salary from $6 million down to $2 million with incentives (none guaranteed), Loadholt has taken back his starter spot at right tackle throughout OTAs. Nipping at his heels is tackle Andre Smith, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with $1 million guaranteed in March.

          Loadholt’s recovery has been met with competition, which begins in earnest when players report to training camp on July 28.

          “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to actually hit somebody,” Loadholt said.
            Barr still held out
              Third-year linebacker Anthony Barr has yet to practice in any of the three OTAs open to the media this spring. Barr was limited in last year’s OTAs as well before returning to the field some during mandatory minicamp. Then dealing with a lingering knee injury, Barr was eased into last year’s training camp.
                During the season, the 24-year-old Barr dealt with a broken left hand, strained groin and a back injury. He missed two starts. As to why they’re playing it safe in June, don’t expect much clarity from Zimmer, who declined to elaborate on Barr’s health.
                  “It’s the same thing, but the first injury report comes up September 3rd or something like that,” Zimmer said. “So, that’s when I’ll give them.”
                    Both starting defensive tackles were also held back as Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd did not practice. Joseph and Scott Crichton worked with athletic trainer Eric Sugarman in the sand pits adjacent to the team’s practice fields. Guard Alex Boone, tight end Rhett Ellison, guard Mike Harris, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and linebacker Travis Lewis also did not practice in the voluntary session on Tuesday.
                      After OTAs wrap up this week, the Vikings’ three-day mandatory minicamp runs Tuesday through Thursday next week.

                        Late hits

                        It’s early, but Zimmer said he’s seen some growth from Bridgewater in the Vikings’ scheme: “He just seems to be cutting it loose a little bit more. You know he sees it and he lets it go. He’s shown some really nice deep balls. He seems like he’s, I guess, matured and he’s more comfortable in everything that he does.”

                        Linebackers Edmond Robinson and Audie Cole filled in for Barr at strong-side linebacker during team drills. Robinson nabbed one of two interceptions, the other going to Chad Greenway off a tipped Bridgewater pass. Cole also played some middle linebacker.

                        Second-year cornerback Trae Waynes continues to see a healthy dose of work through OTAs as he mixed in with the first-team defense while playing with the second team behind Terence Newman. Waynes successfully defended a deep Bridgewater toss to Charles Johnson without extra contact. Johnson later made an impressive one-handed grab over the middle.

                        Defensive tackles Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson got the bump up to the first team with Joseph and Floyd held out. Rookie Willie Beavers filled in for the absent Boone at left guard.

                        Kicker Blair Walsh went 8-of-9 from field goals in one team drill, missing his only attempt wide right from about 47 yards away. He converted his longest try from beyond 50 yards.

                        Cordarrelle Patterson, Marcus Sherels, Stefon Diggs and Troy Stoudermire fielded kicks during special teams drills on Tuesday.

                        The post Notebook: Seeking balance for Vikings, TE Kyle Rudolph hopes to stand out appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

                        Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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