MANKATO — A little more than a year ago, just before training camp began, Kyle Rudolph was studying film of future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez. He was trying to learn a thing or two and make himself a better player in his second season as a tight end with the Minnesota Vikings.
By January, Rudolph was replacing Gonzalez on the NFC Pro Bowl roster and grabbing MVP honors at that all-star game.
During his time in Hawaii, Rudolph hung out with another hero of his, Jason Witten, and picked the Cowboy's brain about playing tight end in the NFL.
"Jason and Tony are guys that I've looked up to my whole career," Rudolph, said after the first practice of this year's training camp, "(since) about the time I started playing as a freshman in high school when I moved to tight end. Those guys were well-established in the NFL by then, and I followed their careers the whole time."
Now, as he begins his third year in the league, the imposing, 6-foot-6 Rudolph is getting comparisons to the top players at what's fast becoming a glamour position in the NFL. He's the top returning pass catcher for the Vikings after hauling in 53 receptions for 493 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns last season. He was also counted on as a blocker for Adrian Peterson and one of the best rushing attacks in the league.
Rudolph isn't at his position's peak by any means; he's got a way to go before catching up to those he's studying and measuring himself against. Witten caught 110 passes for Dallas last year, while the great Gonzalez grabbed 93 for the Falcons in his 16th NFL season.
"We expect development," Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Kyle developed from year one to year two, and we are looking for another jump both in the run game and the pass game from Kyle. From all indication he is poised to do that."