“Boy, he’s a friendly target,” Cousins said one sunny afternoon last month after completing a pass to his strong-handed tight end during non-contact drills when he wore a wireless microphone to allow the team’s video production department to create a brief highlight clip for the website. “It’s like throwing into a mattress.”
The eighth-year veteran has been happy to oblige his new quarterback, trying to, well, be the best piece of bedtime furniture he can be.
“That’s a new one for me. I’m OK with it. Try to make sure that he’s always getting a good night sleep, always be there for him. That’s kind of my role around here,” Rudolph said on Tuesday after practice.
Cousins recently described a play in a red zone situation when he looked at his two-time Pro Bowl tight end during his drop-back but sent the ball elsewhere. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski immediately offered some insight to the $84 million guaranteed man.
“In that situation, you might want to give Kyle a chance,” Cousins said, recounting what Stefanski advised. “Even though he looks covered, you have to throw him the ball. He’s open. He can prove you right.”
Having Rudolph available for drills with the first-team offense has been a welcomed bonus for the Vikings, considering he had surgery on his right ankle in February after playing through pain down the stretch of the season. Rudolph said he’s a couple of weeks ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation.
“We have a new offense, a new system, a new quarterback. I wasn’t getting any better over there by myself, so it’s good to be back out there,” he said.
Rudolph is not only the longest-tenured offensive player on the roster, but he and wide receiver Adam Thielen are the only ones who joined the team before Mike Zimmer was hired as head coach in 2014. Thielen was on the practice squad in 2013. In fact, Rudolph, Thielen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs are the only members of the offense who’ve been here more than three years.
Rudolph, who will turn 29 on Nov. 9, is coming off the most fruitful two-year stretch in the NFL. He had 81 catches for 532 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017 and, just as importantly, played in all 16 games for a third straight season.
He’s endured more than his share of injuries going back to his college days at Notre Dame, and that helped minimize any anxiety that might have come with a procedure done at this stage of his career. Rudolph counted five surgeries in the past 10 years.
“It’s funny when you sit there: The nurses are getting ready for pre-op, and the doctors are talking to you. I honestly feel like I’m in the dentist office getting my teeth cleaned. It’s so routine, at this point,” Rudolph said. “I think at times, your family and friends are more worried about it than you are.”
With the skills Cousins has in completing play-action passes and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s penchant for using his tight ends in all kinds of spots to maximize their matchup advantages with potentially cornerbacks and safeties, Rudolph is in position for another productive season.
“Obviously, he’s had great success with tight ends,” Rudolph said. “What he’s able to do with all the playmakers and all of the chess pieces that we have on offense, it’s been a lot of fun to see.”