MINNEAPOLIS -- It generally isn't until about now, with training camp just around the corner, that Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph starts keeping a close eye on his weight. He has always worked out in the offseason, with an eye toward getting ready for the season, but Rudolph will admit he has also used his training regimen as justification to cut some nutritional corners.
(We'll pause here and let those of you who have never sneaked a couple extra cookies after a hard workout cast the first stones.)
"It was more of just a focus on my diet in February and March, versus, you are out in California, you work out every day, so you feel like you can eat whatever you want," Rudolph said. "Nothing really changes, because you make up for it with the workouts, but when I really focused on eating lean meats, eating the salads, you see the results."
Rudolph started keeping a closer leash on his diet in February, with an eye toward slimming down before the Vikings' voluntary veterans' minicamp in April. He is now about 260 pounds, he said, after playing at 275 last season, and with a more active role in the Vikings' passing game likely awaiting him this season, Rudolph has been working to refine his skills as a receiver. He is working out at Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's training camp this week, training with the All-Pro wideout and a group of receivers for the fourth year, and has been drilling his speed in and out of his cuts with Fitzgerald's trainer, Bill Welle.
In a scheme that has traditionally rewarded tight ends, Rudolph could see the payoff this season.
"Becoming more explosive in and out of cuts, that was the big emphasis for me, going back and watching a ton of (Cleveland) Browns tape (when Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was the coordinator there last year)," Rudolph said. "I've always watched a lot of (San Diego Chargers tight end) Antonio Gates (who played for Turner from 2007-12), and I don't know that there's anyone as good as him at getting in and out of breaks. That's been the big point of emphasis for me the whole year, and getting the weight down has helped a ton, I think. I feel like I run a lot smoother than I did at 275."
It's no secret that Turner's offense will use Rudolph differently than Bill Musgrave's scheme did, but based on what Gates and Browns tight end Jordan Cameron have done, the change figures to be stark. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cameron ran 322 pass routes from the slot last season, which was the second-most of any tight end in the league. Gates was third at 290. Though he only played in eight games last season, Rudolph was flexed into the slot just 76 times.
He said there are also plenty of situations that call for him to be in the same spot he's always occupied, but in a two-point stance. In any case, Rudolph will get opportunities to put his route-running work into practice.
"As a bigger guy, if I'm just running, I can pretty much run with anybody," Rudolph said. "I'm very comfortable with that. But being bigger and taller, it's harder for me to get my weight down, and a lot of times, we focus on getting in and out with the fewest steps possible. I don't think I really felt comfortable running our new routes until about halfway through OTAs. We drilled it over and over again, and it just started clicking."
Rudolph has said many times, and said again on Tuesday, that he would love to sign a new contract to keep him in Minnesota beyond this season. He's clicked with Turner, whom Rudolph said is more hands-on in practices than the Vikings' previous offensive coaches, and wants to be with the team when its new stadium opens in 2016. But with training camp just 2 1/2 weeks away, Rudolph said he is not focused on a contract extension, concentrating instead on the kind of big season that could land him a lucrative deal.
"I love it here. I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to stay here," Rudolph said. "It's a very exciting time to be a Minnesota Viking. But first for me, it was learning the new offense, so I can go out there and let my ability take over. Now, at this point, I'm comfortable with the offense. It's just getting in the best shape possible, so when we report on July 24, I can have the best training camp I've ever had."