Finally tight end Kyle Rudolph durable, now top Minnesota Vikings receiver

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Tight end Kyle Rudolph is the Minnesota Vikings' leading receiver entering Week 15, a testament to the durability he has long coveted and Minnesota's vanilla passing attack.No matter.Rudolph not only is productive on the ba...

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, right, runs after a catch against Atlanta Falcons defensive back Phillip Adams, left, and defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., back, and linebacker Philip Wheeler in the fourth quarter of their game on Nov. 29 at the Georgia Dome. (Photo by Jason Getz / USA TODAY Sports)

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Tight end Kyle Rudolph is the Minnesota Vikings’ leading receiver entering Week 15, a testament to the durability he has long coveted and Minnesota’s vanilla passing attack.
No matter.
Rudolph not only is productive on the back stretch of a season after injuries sidelined him 16 games over his first four years in the NFL, he is playing games with playoff expectations as Minnesota (8-5) prepares to play host to the Chicago Bears on today at TCF Bank Stadium.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve played meaningful games in December,” he said Friday. “In 2012, we had to win our last four to make the postseason. It’s not quite that same situation where you have your backs against the wall. But for us, it’s important to go out and take care of business these next couple of weeks.”
Rudolph’s 45 receptions are tied for 16th among NFL tight ends; Tennessee’s Delanie Walker leads the way with 74. Rudolph has one more catch than teammate Stefon Diggs, the rookie wide receiver who did not crack the lineup until Week 4.
Rudolph also leads the team with four touchdown catches among 421 yards. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner loves utilizing tight ends in his passing scheme, and opportunities to integrate Rudolph more have increased in recent games.
“There’s two things - I think it’s who we’re playing and the situations that we’re in, and No. 2 would be (quarterback) Teddy (Bridgewater) is throwing the ball to him when he’s covered more,” Turner said.
“Kyle is not a guy that’s going to get great separation, but he’s a big-body presence. He’s thrown the ball where, we had one on the sideline, third down, the defender almost got a hand on the ball, Teddy put it out in front.
“He’s a big man. He went up and got it and ran down the sideline.”
Rudolph’s primary mission in 2015 was to shed the injury-prone stigma that haunted him at Notre Dame and intensified after his 2012 Pro Bowl rookie season.
From a foot shattered while making a touchdown catch and a knee/ankle sprained in a pileup to hamstring and abdominal tears, he has been plagued by random and debilitating maladies.
Throughout 2014 training camp, when he signed a five-year contract extension that could be worth $40 million, Rudolph preached about the importance of remaining healthy. He shed 16 pounds to increase his speed and route running after that broken foot sidelined him for the final eight games of 2013.
However, Rudolph aggravated a nagging core injury in a Week 3 loss at New Orleans and had surgery to reattach his abdominal muscles to both pelvic bones, which sidelined him six games.
He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and sprained his ankle getting rolled up Week 15 at Detroit. Rudolph missed one game before returning for the season finale against Chicago. But he never fully recovered.
It all added up to just 24 receptions for 231 yards and two touchdowns in nine games last season as the Vikings (7-9) suffered one calamity after another on offense.
One could almost hear Rudolph knocking on his wooden locker stall Friday when explaining his good health in 2015.
“It’s just a product not only of continuing to put in the work in the offseason but also having some things go your way,” he said. “Good luck for a change.”

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