Kyle Rudolph and Harrison Smith have been sharing the same football field since 2008, when Rudolph joined the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Smith was already there as a redshirt freshman.
Rudolph recalled the start of their friendship.
“You know, it’s funny Harrison and my relationship started with a fight in training camp my freshman year,” Rudolph said. “Harrison played outside linebacker and I was playing tight end, and you know we were obviously both freshmen at the time. Harrison was a redshirt freshman and I was a true freshman and we were both trying to prove ourselves, that we belonged.
“So our first interaction as friends and as teammates was a fight in training camp. Now we have been playing together for the last 10 years, minus the one year I was here and he was still in college. We’re definitely close. It’s a pleasure for me to be able to go against him every day in practice because he is the best safety in football. If I’m going against him every day in practice, it’s going to make me a better football player.”
Rudolph was asked how practicing against a player like Smith, and a No. 1 defense like the Vikings have, can improve his play.
“He definitely makes me better as a player, and he makes Sundays a lot easier for me because the guy I’m going against on Sunday is usually not as good,” he said.
Senior Bowl led to draft
Rudolph was taken 43rd overall in the second round of the 2011 draft while Smith went 29th overall in 2012. Rudolph said he really didn’t envision being teammates with Smith in the NFL.
“I remember going into my second year here and they had Harrison at the Senior Bowl and really liked him and liked how good he was as a player, a smart player,” Rudolph recalled. “We got through that first round of the draft and there was an opportunity to get him, so you know I remember when we drafted him late in the first round and traded back to get him, and obviously the rest is history. He has had a great career.”
That 2012 Senior Bowl also featured new Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, along with Super Bowl-winning QBs Russell Wilson and Nick Foles.
An increased role?
It’s good news for Rudolph that Cousins is considered one of the best QBs when it comes to using tight ends. FiveThirtyEight noted that from 2015 to ’17 Cousins threw 256 passes when two tight ends were in the formation and averaged 10.24 yards per attempt, nearly a yard better than No. 2 on the list, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
“First and foremost a great person, he fits into our locker room. He’s a natural leader and he has incredible arm talent,” Rudolph said of Cousins. “He makes throws out here that everybody has talked about through OTAs. He throws a very catchable ball, and he always seems to put the ball in the right place.”
It also bodes well that the Vikings brought in offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. He comes from Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, which ran the third-most plays with two tight ends in the NFL last season.
Still, Rudolph, who is 100 percent healthy after battling ankle injuries last season, said the offensive system is staying fairly consistent from that of Pat Shurmur, so far.
“It’s not all that different. Terminology is different, we use different words and every word has a meaning,” he said. “For us, there’s a few words this year that have different meanings than in the past, but a lot of the same concepts.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Vikings line coach Andre Patterson talked about the impact of losing Tom Johnson but adding Sheldon Richardson.
“Well, first of all I really like my group,” Patterson said. “They work hard every day and come out here to get better. Sheldon has been a great addition to our group. He is a 300-pound guy that is very athletic. Has good feet, he has a good feel of how to play run blocks and done nothing but get better since the day he got here.”
A lot of the focus has been on how Richardson and the other interior defensive lineman, Linval Joseph, can really improve the inside pass rush. But Patterson said they might be just as effective helping the edge rushers such as Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
“I think he has a chance to help Linval out a lot but also the two defensive ends outside of him because the fastest way to the quarterback is through the middle,” Patterson said. “So if he can give us production from inside then that helps Everson and Danielle out a lot, too.”
While Patterson pointed out that Hunter had a great camp and Brian Robison continues to take on a more veteran teaching role, the coach also has been impressed by some of the younger players.
“You know, Stephen Weatherly and Tashawn Bower and Jaleel Johnson, those three young guys have had really good camps,” he said. “They worked really hard with our strength coach [Mark] Uyeyama to change their body. They’re stronger, they’re faster and they’ve really, really improved a lot since last season. I’ve been really happy with what those guys have done so far.”
• Pro Football Focus wrote recently that the Vikings’ Trae Waynes was the NFL’s best cornerback when it came to stopping the run. Waynes stopped 4.7 percent of runs faced, but the four corners who stopped a higher percentage played slot cornerback. “This revelation outlines just how successful [Waynes], primarily an outside cornerback, was at defending the run in 2017,” PFF wrote.
• Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey on 30th-round pick Seth Halvorsen, the Heritage Christian standout pitcher who chose college over signing: “He’s a talented young man and we’re excited about following him moving forward. It’s likely he ends up at Missouri, but he’s someone that we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.”
• Infielder Royce Lewis continues to climb up Baseball America’s list of the top 100 prospects. The updated midseason rankings have him at No. 12 after starting the year at No. 15. The Twins’ top draft choice in 2017 is dominating Class A Cedar Rapids as a 19-year-old.
• Former Gophers forward Rick Rickert announced his retirement, after 15 seasons of professional basketball. He spent his final seven years playing in Japan, including the past two for the Ibaraki Robots. “This may be the end of my playing career but certainly not the end of our time in Japan,” he told the Japan Times.
• Besides Vikings games, other events remaining at U.S. Bank Stadium this year include the X Games on July 19-22; the Tottenham Hotspur-A.C. Milan soccer game on July 31; and concerts for Jay-Z and Beyoncé on Aug. 8, Taylor Swift on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 and Ed Sheeran on Oct. 20. Yet to be announced is when the Gophers men’s basketball team will play Oklahoma State.
• This year marked the fourth time the Gophers baseball team was eliminated by the eventual College World Series champion. Oregon State joined Louisiana State in 2009, Cal State-Fullerton in 2004 and Stanford in 1987.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • shartman@startribune.