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Vikings’ Rudolph eager to shed injury-prone label

MINNEAPOLIS -- Introspection flows naturally when driving solo through the desert, and Kyle Rudolph held forth Monday on what was at stake following another half-baked season wrecked by injuries.

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Photo by Ben Garvin / St. Paul Pioneer Press Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph sits on the field after being injured on a play in a game against New Orleans on Sept. 21 at the Superdome in New Orleans.

MINNEAPOLIS - Introspection flows naturally when driving solo through the desert, and Kyle Rudolph held forth Monday on what was at stake following another half-baked season wrecked by injuries.
Dashing west on Interstate 10, past the wind turbines and scorched earth between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, the Vikings tight end was preparing for two months of strength and conditioning to fortify his body and reputation.
Rudolph has played only two full football seasons in the past six at Minnesota and Notre Dame. Since 2013, he has been plagued by random and debilitating maladies, from a foot shattered while hauling in a touchdown catch to a knee/ankle sprained in a pileup. The addition of hamstring and abdominal tears has labeled Rudolph injury prone.
Questions about Rudolph’s durability have lingered since he was splitting time between the huddle and trainer’s room in South Bend.
“I’d like to think no one in the league works harder than I do to stay healthy and take care of my body, but the bottom line is I haven’t been, and the only way to get rid of those questions is to play 16 games,” Rudolph said during a telephone interview Monday.
“The only thing I know how to do is to keep fighting to put the injuries behind me and be healthy every Sunday. I know when that happens, all those questions will be put to bed and I can continue working toward being one of the best tight ends in the game.”
Rudolph has missed 16 games over four seasons with the Vikings, a full-season equivalency that cost more than just his pride. The team signed Rudolph to a five-year contract extension in August that could be worth up to $40 million.
Throughout 2014 training camp, Rudolph preached about remaining healthy. He shed 16 pounds to increase his speed and route running after a broken foot sidelined him for the final eight games of 2013.
“You want to prove you’re worth that kind of money and be out there for our guys to earn that contract, and that is what is most frustrating,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph aggravated a nagging core injury in a Week 3 loss at New Orleans and had surgery to re-attach his abdominal muscles to both pelvic bones, which sidelined him six games.
Rudolph said he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and also sprained his ankle getting rolled up Week 15 at Detroit.
“Minding my own business,” he groused.
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 as the Vikings (7-9) suffered one calamity after another on offense.
Against the Saints, Minnesota also lost starting quarterback Matt Cassel (broken foot) and right guard Brandon Fusco (torn pectoral) to season-ending injuries.
Running back Adrian Peterson was banished 15 games as he defended himself against a child abuse charge and sued the NFL for reinstatement.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater commanded a patchwork unit that forced offensive coordinator Norv Turner to simplify the playbook and wonder what might have been with a full squad.
Rudolph and Bridgewater texted back and forth last month while watching the Green Bay-Seattle overtime thriller in the NFC championship game.
“I was like, ‘Hey, bud, next year at this time it could be us playing,’ “ Rudolph recounted.
They made plans to connect with the Vikings’ receivers and running backs and schedule informal workouts before the team’s offseason program starts April 20 at Winter Park.
“To spend a week together away from the actual facility, and put in the work together on our own does a lot for building relationships and chemistry, which we didn’t have with Teddy last year,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph stayed in Minnesota after the season to let his body heal before traveling to Palm Desert to thaw out over the weekend.
He was a groomsman for his former Notre Dame teammate, Jimmy Clausen, currently the backup quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Clausen married beach pro volleyball player Jess Gysin.
“Anytime you have an NFL quarterback marrying a professional beach volleyball player, there’s going to be great scenery,” he said.
The fun ends when Rudolph pulls into Orange County, Calif., where he will spend the next eight weeks rebuilding for the long march to the 2015 season and another shot at redemption.
“I’m ready to roll,” said the 2012 Pro Bowler. “There’s a lot to do before September to go out and have the year I expect to have. But when you sit at home in January, watching teams win playoff games and the Super Bowl, and see guys making big plays in big games, you can’t wait for the process to begin.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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