When Jonathan Bullard played at the University of Florida, he would hang out at the home of Gators defensive line coach Chris Rumph and defeat his son in Madden NFL video games. Now, he’s back with Rumph as a member of the Vikings.
Rumph was named Minnesota’s defensive line coach in February under first-year coach Kevin O’Connell, and he played a role in the Vikings signing Bullard as a free agent. Now, the seventh-year defensive end is in line to be in the starting lineup for Sunday’s opener against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We were real cool, me and coach Rumph,” Bullard said of spending his senior season at Florida in 2015 with Rumph as his position coach. “Throughout the years, he’s always checked in with me, and it was like walking back to college when I walked back into the (Vikings defensive line room). … In college, he would have us over, and I got to know his family. I definitely beat his son in Madden.”
Chris Rumph II was in high school at the time, but things have turned out just fine for him in football. Rumph II, now 23, is entering his second season as a linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers.
When Bullard signed a one-year contract with the Vikings on June 2 for the minimum of $1.035 million, not much was expected of him. But he turned heads in training camp and during the preseason, and that played a role in Minnesota’s decision to waive first-string defensive end Armon Watts on Aug. 30. Watts was picked up the next day by Chicago.
The Vikings also acquired defensive end Ross Blacklock from Houston on Aug. 30, and he perhaps eventually could move into the starting lineup after he learns the playbook. But for now, Bullard is listed as first string, has been working all week with the first team, and expects to start Sunday.
“I’m excited,” Bullard said. “I had a pretty good camp. (Starting) means that coaches put trust in me. They’ve seen something they like, and I just want to continue to do what I was doing.”
Bullard is a journeyman who has ample experience in the 3-4 scheme, which the Vikings now play under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. After being a third-round draft pick by Chicago in 2016, Bullard has been with the Bears from 2016-18, Arizona in 2019, Seattle in 2020 and Atlanta last season.
He has started just 15 of the 70 NFL games he has played. But he did start four of the first eight games he played last season for the Falcons before he was bogged down by injuries and got into just one more 2021 game as a reserve.
“I went to Atlanta, and it was the same thing,” Bullard said. “People didn’t expect much, and I ended up starting. … I know what I’m capable of. I think I showed (the Vikings) what I’m capable of.”
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Bullard is known as a run stopper, one reason why he’s being looked as a starter. But he figures to be replaced on passing downs.
“He brings a tremendous amount of experience,” said Dalvin Tomlinson, Minnesota’s other first-string defensive end. “He’s a superstar in the run game. I’m looking forward to seeing him produce this weekend.”
Bullard is hoping to stick around Minnesota for awhile. But if he runs into Rumph II again and he wants to get revenge in Madden, perhaps the result might be different.
“He might beat me now because I don’t play as much as I used to,” Bullard admitted.