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Vikings rookie tight end Irv Smith has a mentor in Kyle Rudolph

Alabama Crimson Tide tight end Irv Smith Jr. (82) runs after a reception against the Clemson Tigers during the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game at Levi's Stadium on Jan. 7. Smith, a Minnesota Vikings draft pick, has a mentor in Kyle Rudolph. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- When the Vikings selected tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round of April’s NFL draft, his father wasted no time in reaching out to Kyle Rudolph.

Irv Smith Sr. was a tight end at Notre Dame from 1989-92 before playing in the NFL from 1993-99. He later met Rudolph, a Notre Dame tight end from 2008-10 before joining the Vikings.

“As soon as my son was drafted, I sent Kyle a text,” said Smith Sr. “I said, ‘My son just got drafted. Please do me a favor and look out for him.’ His exact words back were, ‘I will help Junior with everything on and off the field to help make him a great pro.’ And I said, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Since Smith, 20, arrived early last month in Minnesota, Rudolph has taken the rookie under his wing. He has been showing the youngest player in the NFL the ins and outs of the league.

“(Smith Sr.) asked if I’d look out for him, and I’m happy to do that,” Rudolph said. “It’s what the veterans did for me when I got here as a rookie (in 2011). … I came in as a 21-year-old rookie and they looked out for me, so now, as a nine-year veteran, it’s my responsibility to look out for the young guys who come in.”

The Vikings have talked about playing Rudolph, the starter since his rookie year, alongside Smith. However, there remains uncertainty over Rudolph’s future with the team.

Rudolph is on the books for a $7.275 million nonguaranteed salary in the final year of his contract, giving him a 2019 salary-cap number of $7.625 million. The Vikings, with just $611,926 of cap room, might look to increase that number by changing Rudolph’s situation. Options include extending Rudolph’s contract and lowering his cap number, trading him or releasing him.

“I definitely hope he sticks around,” Smith said. “He’s been a great leader so far, and I feel like we can complement each other very well and help this offense.”

The Vikings concluded three weeks of organized team activities Thursday. They have a mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday before next assembling in late July for training camp.

“As a young rookie coming in, I’m just trying to see how (Rudolph) carries himself and just trying to learn as much as I can from him,” said Smith, a New Orleans native who turns 21 on Aug. 9, the day the Vikings open the preseason at New Orleans. “I watch Kyle as much as I can (during practices), and he watches me.

“If he sees something, he’ll let me know, and if I make a good play, he’ll let me know. If I need to work on something, he’ll let me know. It’s like having another coach out there.”

Reviews on Smith during OTAs were good. After one session, quarterback Kirk Cousins admitted he was surprised to see Smith beat cornerback Trae Waynes downfield, saying he “would have had a touchdown” had he not underthrown the ball.

“It was zone coverage. … Not many guys are going to run by Trae,” Rudolph said. “Trae can run pretty good.”

The Vikings have talked about Smith creating mismatches with his athleticism. Last season at the University of Alabama, he caught 44 passes for 710 yards, a 16.1-yard average.

Rudolph has known for a long time about the Smith family’s excellence at tight end. When he got to Notre Dame, Rudolph took note of Smith Sr., selected by the Saints with the No. 20 pick in the 1993 draft, having his picture on the wall as a former top player at the school.

“I got to know (Smith Sr.) and Derek Brown (the No. 14 pick in the 1992 draft) and some of the other great tight ends that played at Notre Dame back in the day,” Rudolph said. “So I already had met Irv Sr. a few times at Notre Dame before he reached out on draft day. … Those guys who played in the late ’80s and early ’90s, they were studs.”

Like his son, Smith Sr. is hoping Rudolph remains with the Vikings. He is thankful for Rudolph being a mentor.

“I appreciate him looking out for Irv,” he said. “Your rookie year is one of the toughest, most important years of your career. Having a guy like Kyle let me know he has his back means a lot to me.”