Vikes rookies want summer chemistry to carry over
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL lockout has delayed development for rookies all over the league, without any of the offseason practices or minicamps to start working on schemes with their new teammates and coaches.
Minnesota Vikings rookies Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph are confident their budding relationship has at least created some chemistry that will carry into the 2011 season and beyond.
Ponder, the quarterback from Florida State taken by the Vikings with the 12th overall pick, and Rudolph, a tight end from Notre Dame drafted in the second round, first met at the NFL scouting combine in February. They spent time together at two events for NFL rookies and worked out for a week in Florida, honing their throw-and-catch camaraderie as well as forming a friendship off the field.
"It's good to have a guy like that to go through this whole process with," Ponder said. "We've kind of leaned on each other. I think it's always great to have someone that can be there with you. Obviously he's going to be a big weapon during the season."
This week, Ponder is trying to find a place to live during the season, and he's staying in the guest room at Rudolph's rented townhome in the meantime.
"Hopefully it's a long ride for both of us here," Rudolph said, "and hopefully we'll be able to grow together, grow quickly and win a lot of football games. That's what everybody wants."
Ponder was a late arrival due to his house hunting project, but he and Rudolph were among a group of about 25 NFL players and hopefuls who worked out Tuesday at the University of Minnesota. The sessions are organized by Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a native of Minneapolis.
"When you're out here with guys that are in the league, they're going to push each other," Ponder said. "They have a great setup."
That extra work with teammates before training camp, whenever it begins, is important.
"Everyone runs routes completely differently. To get on the same page and start working with these guys and get comfortable is big," Ponder said. "It's definitely a big step."
Ponder threw passes to Rudolph and a handful of other Vikings receivers in Florida during the week after Memorial Day. Ponder was able to pick up a playbook during the draft while the lockout was temporarily lifted by a court order, and he shared copies with as many Vikings as he could. But without many players living in the same place during the summer, there weren't as many Vikings player gatherings as other teams had. That could slow their progress a bit as the entire offense learns a new system under new coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who took part in the workouts Tuesday, too, didn't sound worried.
"We have a lot of vets here. So at least we don't have a young team," Shiancoe said. "The rookies are really going to have to do some adjusting and some making up since we didn't have an offseason. ... But at the same time we are professionals. Just adjust on the fly. Especially this team. We've been through a lot of adversity. We know how to deal with it."
So they'll continue to run sprints in the heat, refine their route-running skills and keep lifting weights, trying to be as ready as they can whenever the lockout is officially over and camps can begin.
"Holler at me when it's time to go," Shiancoe said.