Niyo: Rudock muscles his way to bigger role with Lions

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The body’s a little bit bigger now. But so is the opportunity.

For Jake Rudock, that’s certainly no coincidence.

Because as he enters his second NFL season, Rudock is getting his first real chance to be second in command, filling the Lions’ backup quarterback role behind Matthew Stafford.

And while it certainly feels different — it’s always awkward being the third wheel, like he was a year ago as a practice-squad rookie behind Stafford and veteran Dan Orlovsky — it also looks different, as Rudock made good on an offseason promise to bulk up.

“There’s a place with a lot of weights in it, and they told me, ‘Don’t leave and just keep moving stuff,’ ” Rudock laughed. “So that’s what I tried to do.”

And it appears that’s what he has done, too, adding nearly 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame before voluntary workouts began last month.

“Physically, he’s stronger — he’s around 215 pounds now,” Jim Caldwell said. “And he’s throwing the ball better. Not to say that he was throwing it poorly before, but he’s better.”

He’d better be, of course. The Lions are banking on that, having opted not to re-sign Orlovsky or add another veteran quarterback this offseason. General manager Bob Quinn made it clear not long after last season ended Rudock would “get every opportunity to earn that job.” And though the team went ahead and drafted another quarterback — Brad Kaaya of Miami (Fla.) was a sixth-round choice, just like Rudock a year ago — it seems likely that for the first time in Stafford’s nine-year NFL career he won’t have a veteran backup.

“He’s a young quarterback,” Caldwell said of Rudock, 24. “Last fall, he didn’t get as many snaps because he was No. 3. Now he’s No. 2. He’s going to get a lot more. So we anticipate we’re going to see a nice, gradual improvement.”

Quinn and the Lions’ staff thought enough of Rudock’s potential to spend a draft pick on him a year ago.

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An impressive showing at his pro day helped, coming on the heels of a strong finish to his graduate-transfer season at Michigan.

The endorsement of Jim Harbaugh probably didn’t hurt, either.

Fitting his profile

But mostly what the Lions liked was what they got: a smart, mature quarterback with a decent arm and a track record of limiting mistakes.

And after Rudock showed some promising signs in the exhibition season — including extended duty in the finale against Buffalo — they still were able to stash him on their practice squad, allowing him to play the understudy role without much pressure.

He’d watch film daily with Stafford and Orlovsky, spend hours in meeting rooms game-planning with coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan, and then get extra reps running the scout team, treating it like his own offense — the motions, the adjustments, the reads.

“I kind of got a chance to install every week, like, ‘Hey, this is the play, this is the play,’ ” said Rudock, who’d also go through a lengthy pregame workout on Sundays with Callahan.

“I’d seen it so many times, watching it run, going through it in my head, the progressions, that helps a lot.”

Confidence boost

So did a little midseason affirmation in mid-November, when the Bears came calling, trying to poach Rudock off the Lions’ practice squad.

That forced the Lions’ hand into signing Rudock to the 53-man roster for the final five games of the regular season and the playoffs.

“It reinforces that, sure,” Rudock said.

“It kind of just allows you to say, ‘Hey, I can do this.’

“You feel good, you feel confident. And it shows the hard work you’ve been doing is paying off.

“But the important thing is not to say, ‘OK, I made it.’ No, what got you there, keep doing that. And that’ll help you stay here.”

That’ll be what these next few months are all about for Rudock, using that “extra zip” to open tighter windows on the field, while showing he’s got command of the huddle and not just the playbook.

“The biggest thing is to always get better,” Rudock said.

He’s confident he can.

And the Lions sure seem to think so, too.