Kyle Rudolph got to put on a uniform and practice football on Wednesday, the first time he has been able to do that for the New York Giants after offseason foot surgery. He was, to say the least, fired up about the opportunity.
“For me, this was the first football I’ve gotten to play since December. I’ve still got a long way to go, a lot of work left ahead, but this is what I love to do,” Rudolph said. “Here I am today back at practice and it felt damn good.”
His teammates were glad to see the 31-year-old Rudolph finally get on the field.
“It was good. He’s been working his butt off nonstop just to get out of the building. I know it was good for him to put the pads on, helmet, run around, catch some balls and be involved with the group,” said tight end Evan Engram. “He’s been involved off the field and in the meeting rooms, all the x’s and o’s. He’s been great to work with, so just to get him on the field, I know he’s happy about it, it’s good to see him out. He looks really good.”
“Good to see him out there,” said quarterback Daniel Jones. “He’s worked so hard to get back and he’s been behind the scenes a lot helping all of us, helping me, helping the tight ends, and it’s been good to have him out there.”
Rudolph, who discovered he needed the foot surgery during a physical after agreeing to a free-agent deal with the Giants, took part in individual drills on Wednesday. That marked the first time in his 11-year NFL career he had practiced as a member of a team other than the Minnesota Vikings.
“The hardest part of any injury is just not being out there with your teammates. We get such few opportunities to be out here on the field and you really gain perspective of that when you’re not able to be out there,” Rudolph said. “Nobody enjoys training camp. It’s hard, it’s a grind, but you don’t realize until you’re physically unable to be out there how much you miss it and how much you want to be out there.”
Rudolph has said after having surgery in March that he wouldn’t miss any football — meaning he would be ready for the regular season. The longer his stint on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list dragged on, the less likely that seemed.
On Wednesday, Rudolph wasn’t ready to promise that he could fulfill his pledge to be ready for the Sept. 12 season-opener vs. the Denver Broncos.
“These next couple of weeks are huge. I mentioned it before, I just was able to get my feet wet today, but I’ve got a lot of work left to do. I’m just going to keep working each and every day chipping away at it,” Rudolph said. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘You eat an elephant one bite at a time,’ so if I look two weeks from now as, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to get ready to play a game?’ I’ll never get there. But if I just take it each day a time, I’ll be happy with where I’m at in two weeks.”
What Rudolph brings to the offense
The Giants signed Rudolph to be a complement to Evan Engram, a player who could be used inline and as a short-yardage and red-zone target while freeing Engram to get away from the line of scrimmage more often and do the things he does best.
“He’s a receiving threat, he’s a blocking threat, he’s really smart in the film room,” Engram said. “I learn from him, every meeting he teaches me something and I know it’s the same for the rest of the guys. He literally is going to help us in every aspect of the game and I’m really excited about it.”
A two-time Pro Bowler, Rudolph has 453 career catches. Forty-eight of those have gone for touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, he has zero drops in 85 targets. How valuable is that reliability? During the middle of practice on Wednesday, when the Giants were trying to get some rest for Engram and Kaden Smith, both Nakia Griffin-Stewart and Jake Hausmann dropped short throws that should have been completions.
When asked what Rudolph could do to help quarterback Daniel Jones, head coach Joe Judge refused to heap expectations on Rudolph on his first day of practice.
“We’ll have to wait and see. We haven’t seen him on the field with Daniel. That’d be unfair to make some kind of prediction or statement for him right now,” Judge said. “He obviously has a very accomplished resume. He’s a good player. He brings a lot of value in situational football. He’s a big target with good hands. You know what, we’ll just wait until we see him and Daniel really working together in team situations.”
One area Rudolph should help in is the red zone. That was an area of strength for him in Minnesota. Rudolph said he’s just “a big target” with “a lot of basketball in my background.”
“The thing about the red zone is the windows are a lot tighter, there’s a lot less space, but I try to (take) a lot of pride in making tight-window catches and when the quarterback has the confidence in me to throw me the ball in a tight window, catch it for him,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph on his new digs
As we mentioned above, Wednesday was Rudolph’s first non-Vikings practice. He has, though, had several months of watching and studying to learn about his new team, his new teammates, and his new coach. So, what does he think?
On Evan Engram ...
“I learned a lot about Evan. I’ve been a huge fan of Evan’s for a while watching him the last four years. Extremely excited for him this year,” Rudolph said. “He’s as explosive a tight end that I’ve certainly been around and that I’ve watched in this league.”
I asked Rudolph about Engram speaking about how much he learns from the 11-year veteran.
“I try to help not only Evan, but (TE) Kaden (Smith) and (TE) Nakia (Griffin-Stewart) and (TE) Jake (Hausmann), and everybody else in our room. I’ve seen a lot of football, I’ve been around a lot of football,” Rudolph said. “We have an unbelievable coach in our room in (tight ends coach) Derek Dooley and if I can ever add anything to the way that he’s teaching stuff or the way that he sees things, because I’ve been around a lot, I’ve seen a lot of things. Just trying to bring these guys along and help them reach their full potential and be the best tight ends they can be.”
On Daniel Jones ...
“It’s been awesome to watch him. I was a huge fan of his from afar. Obviously, we came up with the Vikings a couple years ago and our defensive guys just raved about his talent,” Rudolph said. “Now, getting to know him as a player and as an individual, his leadership ability, guys gravitate towards him, and that goes a long way, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Continuity is huge and we all rally behind Daniel.”
On Joe Judge and the ‘Patriot Way’ ...
“I’ve learned a lot about him. I have a little bit of the ‘Patriot Way’ in the (way) that they do things and the culture that Coach Judge came from because I played for Coach (Charlie) Weis at Notre Dame. I’ve followed this program for a long time, and you see the culture that he’s trying to instill here with us as the New York Giants,” Rudolph said. “We have a really young team, it’s a team that needs to learn how to win. He says it all the time, ‘You can’t start winning until you stop losing,’ and you see that day in and day out the way he pushes us on our fundamentals, on our technique.
“To me, it’s the first time that I’ve had a head coach that’s not a defensive coordinator, it’s a head coach that’s in charge of the entire team. It’s been a lot of fun for me to get to learn from him.”
Rudolph expanded on Judge with this:
“The thing that sticks out for me in Coach Judge and the way that he pushes us – certainly training camp is hard and we’re going to work, but he said it day one that it’s going to be worth it. It’s rewarding. It’s not rewarding if you go out and you haven’t worked for what you earn. This team is going to work for everything that we earn this year. Guys take a lot of pride in the product that we put on the field because we’ve worked for it.”