EAGAN, Minn. — Garrett Bradbury was candid, truthful and introspective Thursday afternoon.
The Vikings center first began by summing up a wild month for him.
"It's been a roller coaster," Bradbury said. "I'll be honest."
To recap, Bradbury was Minnesota's starting center from the moment he was the 19th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He held that role for the first seven games of this season before landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Mason Cole stepped in to start for the two games while Bradbury was on the list and continued to start for two more, even after Bradbury returned to practice. But an injury to rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw forced the Vikings to shuffle their offensive line, which meant Bradbury went back in as the starting center, Cole moved to right guard and Olisaemeka Udoh kicked outside.
Bradbury has been back in his usual spot for the past two games.
But the 26-year-old also went deep on numerous topics from the past few weeks, something he — or any other player — rarely does during the grind and intensity of the season.
"Probably just got too comfortable. You never want to be comfortable at any point in any profession, you know?" Bradbury said. "And so, you've gotta take a hard look in the mirror, 'What do I need to do differently, what can I do differently?'
"And I feel like I'm doing that and listening to the right people," Bradbury added. "There's a lot of people inside this building and outside the building that gave me advice and just taking that and running with it one day at a time."
Bradbury went into detail about the different thoughts he pondered when he was home for 10 days in November with COVID-19.
Not only was he away from his teammates, but he was also inadvertently knocked out of his starting job for the first time since being drafted.
"A ton of thoughts go through your head," Bradbury said. "There's a lot of sides to it, but individually as a competitor, you're frustrated, you're motivated.
"But then as a team player you're like, 'Hey, we have five good guys out there.' Mason Cole is a starter in this league, and he did an unbelievable job while I wasn't in there, and that's a testament to the coaches and the players that we have," Bradbury continued. "So you're fired up for them, but then obviously you want to be out there. You think that you can help the team win.
"It's a balance. And I just tried to listen to the right people and keep my head on straight because I knew and I know that I wasn't done playing for the year," Bradbury added. "Whenever I was going to go in, I had to be motivated, have the right thoughts and have the right mindset."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Bradbury decided to put his time away from the facility to good use, watching his games back from this season to see where he could improve.
What he saw, Bradbury said, was a guy playing shy and not necessarily up to his full potential.
"Personally, I felt like watching the tape, I was playing to not mess up, playing a little timid," Bradbury said. "Whereas in the moment, I felt like I was just playing good, good enough, etc.
"But the last two games, I feel like I've taken a different mindset to it. I mean it gives you a new perspective, and I think that's good for everyone. And I think it motivated me more," Bradbury added. "You can go one of two ways with it — you can be mad, bitter and all that or you can just say, 'You know what, it's on me.' Look at the film and say, 'What could I have done differently?' I always want to put it on myself, so that way, I can change it. So I feel like taking the right steps and doing that right now."
In the seven games before he missed time, Bradbury's best grade from analytics website Pro Football Focus was 70.8, with five of his games registering at 60.0 or below.
But in his past two games, PFF has graded Bradbury at 77.5 and 77.4, respectively. In fact, those two recent grades are the third and fourth-best marks of his entire 41-game career.
Bradbury seems to have taken on the mentality Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer revealed last week that he wanted his offensive line to adopt.
"I told them it's not good enough to stalemate," Zimmer said. "You get in there, you block a guy, you stalemate them. That's not good enough, we have to drive some guys off the ball."
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Dec. 16 at the TCO Performance Center.
Bradbury said he, and others, heeded that message.
"You don't want to just play good enough. You want to finish them. You don't want your defender to be getting hits on Dalvin [Cook], hits on Kirk [Cousins]," Bradbury said. "It's just playing through the whistle. It's that extra effort and drive that we want to play with up front."
It remains to be seen how the Vikings offensive line shakes out once Darrisaw returns. Perhaps the rookie returns at left tackle. Minnesota then could have Udoh as a swing player if it leaves Bradbury and Cole in their current spots on the interior. The Vikings also could return Udoh back to the interior.
Either way, the Vikings face a gauntlet of defensive tackles down the stretch in Chicago's Akiem Hicks (twice), Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay's Kenny Clark.
"It's a challenge, playing against him for a third year now. He's a great player," Bradbury said of Hicks. "He's played a lot of football. He's smart. He knows what O-linemen are trying to do on different plays, and it's a great opportunity for us to go against a great player like him.
"One week at a time. It's the NFL, it's week-in, week-out," Bradbury added. "Every team has great players like that. It's an opportunity for us to showcase who we are and what we are every [game]."
Bradbury has at least one year left on his rookie deal and possibly two if the Vikings decide this spring to pick up his fifth-year option for 2023.
It's been a whirlwind of late for Bradbury, who is only focused on the present after a chaotic few weeks.
"Nothing is guaranteed in this league, and I'm sitting here glad that it happened," Bradbury said. "I feel like I'm playing my best ball of the season, and I want to keep that going."