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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How will the Vikings adapt without Kyle Rudolph?

By Matthew Coller

All the sudden tight ends in Minnesota are as scarce as Tickle Me Elmo dolls circa 1996.

Starting tight end Kyle Rudolph is listed as “doubtful” against the Cincinnati Bengals. If he misses Sunday’s game, it will mark the first time since Pat Shurmur took over as offensive coordinator that he will be without one of his top weapons on third-and-short and in the red zone.

Rudolph has 53 catches this year on 73 targets, making for a career-high 70.7 percent catch percentage. He’s also grabbed seven touchdowns and created first downs on 11 of 18 third down targets (including 4-for-4 in short yardage).

Head coach Mike Zimmer has also praised Rudolph for his improvement in the blocking game.

So it’s clear that the Vikings will be missing a key player, but his absence might not change much of Shurmur’s attack.

David Morgan, the Vikings’ No. 2 tight end, will likely take Rudolph’s spot. Outside of a concussion suffered against the Atlanta Falcons, Morgan has played a significant role in the offense, topping 40 percent of snaps in the previous four games.

“David is ready to go,” Shurmur said Thursday. “He’s played a lot of football for us in really all of the groupings. He’s played in a single tight end sets, double tight end and three tight end sets, so he knows what to do.”

Despite Rudolphs improvements in blocking, he isn’t as proficient as Morgan, who ranked among the strongest players at his position in the 2016 NFL Combine. Morgan’s presence in single tight end sets is likely to improve the Vikings’ running game out of that personnel grouping. Morgan ranks 19th of 72 qualifying tight ends as a run blocker by Pro Football Focus metrics.

The Vikings’ offense does not often ask Rudolph to go down the field. Of his 53 receptions, 39 have come when the ball has traveled 10 yards or less. Opponents have been routinely thrown off by Rudolph’s usage in the screen game, which should transfer over to Morgan.

The go-up-and-get-it ability in the red zone is where Rudolph will be missed the most. At 6-foot-6, he creates mismatches with defensive backs and linebackers at the goal line.

On Friday, the Vikings promoted Kyle Carter from the practice squad to the active roster and he may step into a role right away. Shurmur has often used multiple tight ends to create personnel mismatches.

Carter creates a different type of mismatch with his speed. He runs a 4.62 40-yard dash, making him the quickest tight end Shurmur has worked with over the last two seasons. That could become a factor in the play-action game, where the Vikings have been very successful this season, ranking sixth in the NFL in play-action yards per attempt.

Shurmur’s options don’t end with the tight ends. We could see Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray on the field at the same time, more of fullback CJ Ham or more four-receiver sets.

Michael Floyd has barely seen the field over the last month. He hasn’t seen double-digit snaps since November 19 against the Rams. During his time in Arizona, Floyd was one of the league’s better deep threats, but he hasn’t shown any of that skill in Minnesota. It’s possible Shurmur dusts him off for a deep pass here or there.

The more likely option is Jarius Wright, who has been impressively reliable when called upon. Wright is especially good at underneath and slant routes over the middle.

So without Rudolph, the Vikings’ offense will be weakened, but Shurmur’s creativity should show through against the Bengals.

The post How will the Vikings adapt without Kyle Rudolph? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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