EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — With rookie running back Dalvin Cook in position to make his first start for the Vikings on Monday and the offensive line having a new starter at each position to open 2017, changes are surrounding Kyle Rudolph.
Rookie Pat Elflein is scheduled to start at center and be flanked by right guard Nick Easton, who started 11 games at center last season, and left guard Nick Easton, who started five games at center. Free-agent signees Riley Reiff (left tackle) and Mike Remmers (right tackle) will bookend the group.
The overhaul is widespread, but Bradford on Thursday noted a rare opportunity for himself heading into his eighth pro season.
"I think this year is only the second time in my career where I haven't been rehabbing an injury, and I have the same offensive coordinator and have been able to kind of fine tune an offense, so that's been really enjoyable for me this offseason," Bradford said. "To really be able to focus on what we're doing on offense, to be able to dedicate my time to that, to not be rehabbing, to not be learning a new system – where you're kind of starting from the ground level and trying to build it."
Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Rams. He worked with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur in the same capacity that season, and the duo reunited in 2015 in Philadelphia.
Shurmur was hired as Vikings tight ends coach in the 2016 offseason, and Minnesota acquired Bradford via a trade eight days before the season. Shurmur was elevated to interim offensive coordinator for the final nine games last season, and the interim designation was removed this offseason.
Bradford, Shurmur and players and coaches reviewed things that went well for the offense and identified areas to target for 2017.
"I feel like after Pat took over last year and some of the things we were able to do, we went back and looked at what we did well, things that we felt that we could improve, and just kind of took it from there," Bradford said. "It was nice to not really have to start over this offseason."
Shurmur helped Bradford adapt to new terminology last season, and Bradford threw for career highs of 395 completions and 3,877 yards en route to setting the new NFL single-season record for completion percentage (71.6).
Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen each had career bests of catches and yards. Diggs had 84 for 903 yards, Rudolph snatched 83 for 840 and Thielen hauled in 69 for 967 yards.
Bradford believes that continuity and communication will help the Vikings implement multiple looks this season.
"I think we're multiple, I think we throw a lot of different looks at defenses, and Pat's not afraid to change, which is really why I like working with him," Bradford said. "He knows what I see well, he knows what I like, he knows things that we've had success with in the past, and he can kind of draw on that.
"I think our conversations during the game and having been together, we've got a pretty good feel on what we're seeing out there on the field and what we want to get to, so it makes it easy for me to come up to him with ideas," Bradford added. "It's easy for me to understand when he comes to me with something, 'Hey I want to get to this player, I want to get to this player,' I usually have a pretty good understanding of why he wants to do that."
Scouting Saints defense
The depth chart for the New Orleans first-team defense has a half-dozen differences from the lineup the Saints started in Week 1 of 2016.
"I think they obviously have a new group of guys, so you go back and watch last year's tape and you realize there are going to be some different faces out there, but I think regardless of who you're playing, it always seems like the opener is always a little bit tricky because you're not really sure what they're going to do," Bradford said. "You're not really sure if what they showed in the preseason is what they're going to come out and play. Obviously they go back and they look at last year and how they played and what they did well and what they struggled with, and they'll come out with some new wrinkles.
"I think the biggest thing going into this week is making sure we're all on top of what we're doing," Bradford added. "Having the answers for what they present us, making sure we're comfortable with our game plan, comfortable with our plays, so that no matter what they throw at us, we're able to go out there play fast and just be the aggressors."
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said he thinks his team will "have a handful of young players that are quickly going to have to get up to speed with the speed of the game and the difference between preseason football and the regular season."
"There were a lot of things to be encouraged about coming off the training camp, and our first real test starts this Monday night," Payton said.
Diggs on improved chemistry
The first game that Bradford played in a Vikings uniform he targeted Diggs 11 times, resulting in nine receptions for 182 yards and a touchdown in a 17-14 win against the Packers to open U.S. Bank Stadium. As the season progressed, Bradford connected with other targets.
Diggs said he believes the receiving targets have been able to improve their chemistry with Bradford this offseason.
"Just as far as chemistry, spending a lot of time together definitely brought us closer," Diggs said. "We've always been brothers, but we're real tight now. And I just feel like we know each other well. As far as guys being out there, you know where guys are going to be, you know how guys play. And it's always good to be on the same page as your quarterback."
View images from the Thursday, Sept. 7 practice at Winter Park.
The first injury report for both teams has been published.
For the Vikings: G Danny Isidora (knee) did not participate. CB Tramaine Brock (groin) and DE Brian Robison (groin) were limited. CB/PR Marcus Sherels (foot) and S Anthony Harris (quadriceps) were full participants.
For the Saints: DE Trey Hendrickson (illness), T Terron Armstead (shoulder), LB Nate Stupar (hamstring) and LS Jon Dorenbos (illness) did not participate. LB Stephone Anthony (ankle) and QB Chase Daniel (ankle) were limited.