Giants’ Kyle Rudolph returns, could be game-changer for Daniel Jones

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The Giants had just finished running up Hill Belichick following their first joint practice with the Patriots when one of my old New England media friends stopped me to ask: “Which one of the New York tabloids will have the headline, ‘We Got the Wrong Jones!’”?

Sure, Patriots first-round draft choice Mac Jones, taking advantage of Cam Newton’s COVID-related absence, had himself a day that wasn’t going to sit well in the film session with Joe Judge and Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, while Daniel Jones was not as sharp as he needs to be and will be expected to be once the cavalry rides back into town and everyone can chill about a grievous practice interception over the middle by Patriots safety Kyle Duggar.

Everyone — and no one more than the Giants’ Jones — is waiting breathlessly for the return of Saquon Barkley, and Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney, so it’s no wonder why the Giants’ Jones was working on his read option a bit in the swelter.

But let us not forget what one under-the-radar veteran with pelts on his wall, especially as a red-zone menace, has a chance to mean for the Giants’ Jones.

He goes by the name of Kyle Rudolph, who was a sight for sore eyes clad in his blue No. 80 for the first time as a Giant following offseason foot surgery and activation off the PUP list on Wednesday.

Kyle Rudolph
AP

“For me, this is the first football I’ve gotten to play since December,” Rudolph said, “so I’ve still got a long way to go, a lot of work left ahead, but this is what I love to do. So the last few months have been tough just watching each and every day, but I gotta give a ton of credit to our medical staff, our trainers, our doctors. … Here I am today back at practice, and it felt damn good.”

Rudolph got his feet wet with limited reps and would not predict whether he would be ready for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against Denver.

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘You eat an elephant one bite at a time,’ so if I look two weeks from now as, ‘Ohmigod, how am I gonna get ready to play a game?’ I’ll never get there,” Rudolph said.

He can’t wait to get there and play catch with the Giants’ Jones.

“It’s been awesome to watch him,” Rudolph said. “I was a huge fan of his from afar. Obviously we came up with the Vikings a couple of years ago and our defensive guys just raved about his talent. And 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 rally behind Daniel.”

Kyle Rudolph
Kyle Rudolph
Getty Images

From 2015-19, before his 2020 season was cut short after 12 games, Rudolph caught 30 touchdown passes. Remember, he is a 6-foot-6, 260-pound target who was a Pro Bowler in 2012 and 2017. He had one drop over the past three seasons.

“He’s played a lot of football at a really high level, he knows the game inside and out, knows how to make plays, knows how to get open and catch the ball,” the Giants’ Jones said. “I think he’ll make a difference for us, and excited to get him out there.”

Since he caught six touchdown passes as a rookie, these are Evan Engram’s TD totals the past three years: 3, 3 and 1. Rudolph’s presence could give Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a Belichick-ian tight end tandem.

“He’s a receiving threat, he’s a blocking threat, he’s really smart in the film room — every meeting he teaches me something,” Engram said, “and I know it’s the same for the rest of the guys. So he literally is gonna help us in every aspect of the game, I’m really excited about him.”

Rudolph, who will turn 32 in November, had played 93 consecutive games before the Vikings placed him on injured reserve following a Week 13 foot injury. I asked him: What makes Kyle Rudolph such a red-zone weapon?

“A big target. … Got a lot of basketball in my background,” Rudolph said. “You see carry over between the game of basketball and the tight end position. The thing about the red zone is the windows are a lot tighter, there’s a lot less space, 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.”

Asked what he can do for his Jones, Judge said: “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. I know he’s working very hard. 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.”

Rudolph also adds a wealth of experience, wisdom and maturity off the field to a young, evolving team.

“I have a little bit of the Patriot Way and the culture that Coach Judge came from because I played for Coach Charlie Weis at Notre Dame,” Rudolph said. “I 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.

“We have a really young team. It’s a team that needs to learn how to win. And 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 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, and it’s been a lot of fun for me to get to learn from him.”

“He said it Day 1 … ‘It’s not rewarding if you haven’t worked for what you earn,’ and this team is gonna work for everything that we earn this year … guys take a lot of pride in the product we put on the field because we’ve worked for it.”

When I asked Rudolph, a Viking from 2011-20, if he has been on a better-conditioned team than this one, he chuckled and said: “Not at all. No chance.” The X Factor for the Giants’ Jones.

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