EAGAN, Minn. — When the Vikings drafted Garrett Bradbury with the 18th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the selection was met with praise from fans and pundits alike.
Add Pat Elflein to the group that was thrilled with the pick, even if it meant a position change as he enters his third season in the league.
The Vikings opened up Organized Team Activity practices this week and had Elflein line up at left guard and not at center, the spot where he started 29 total games over the past two seasons.
Bradbury, meanwhile, lined up as the starting center in front of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“We welcomed him with open arms,” Elflein said of Bradbury’s arrival. “I always knew I could play either … I’m position-flexible. We like Garrett, and it’s a smooth transition.
“I was excited that we were getting another great lineman for this room,” Elflein later added. “To add tough guys, add depth, we got better as a unit and as a team when we drafted him, so I was excited.”
Playing guard isn’t totally new to Elflein, who was at that spot at Ohio State before sliding inside and winning the Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center in 2017.
Bradbury, who won the same award in 2019 with North Carolina State, said he will likely rely heavily on his new teammate as he transitions to the NFL.
“He’s obviously a center and a guard, I’m obviously a center and a guard,” Bradbury said. “He’s played the position in this league and I haven’t, so for me to hear things from him and just talk about schemes and plays together … you don’t learn one position.
“We’re both interior linemen, that’s how it works,” Bradbury added. “The depth chart isn’t etched in stone until Game 1, so no one cares who is where right now. We’re just trying to learn the system and build rapport.”
Elflein chatted with the Twin Cities media after Wednesday’s practice about switching positions. And while he noted that footwork and game-day assignments might be different at guard, he is embracing the fact that he is healthy this time around compared to last year.
Elflein, who underwent shoulder and ankle surgeries after the 2017 season, said he was able to train this offseason instead of getting his body put back together. At one point Wednesday, Elflein quipped that he was glad to spend his offseason in the weight room and not the hospital.
“Offseason was great. No injuries this time, so I was able to train the whole time. I feel great,” said Elflein, who started the final 13 games of the 2018 season. “Whenever you get a healthy offseason to better your craft, I feel like that’s huge for the upcoming season. I feel good and was able to train. My confidence is up.
“You definitely feel it. I didn’t just have one surgery, I had two,” Elflein added. “When you combine two surgeries and combine that with not being in the weight room all year, you can definitely see some effects. I feel like to go through those surgeries that I did, and train as little as I did, and still perform like I did, that I did my job.”
Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: “Well, it’s been two days, but I think he’s done really well. He’s still very athletic. You see the strength starting to come back. Being able to have the offseason, I think that’s been good. So far, so good.
Elflein said Wednesday that he is among a collective group that will help Bradbury be ready to go at center for Minnesota’s season opener on Sept. 8 against Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But the Vikings new left guard will be a prime candidate to mentor Bradbury, since he, too, started at center as a rookie.
“I’m definitely helping him. A rookie center is not an easy job to come in from college to the highest level and be the guy,” Elflein said. “All the vets are relying on a rookie who is the youngest guy. We’re helping him along.
“It’s been great. He wants to be here and work hard,” Elflein added. “He’s smart and is learning the offense really quickly. And he’s physical as hell; that’s what we want on our line … guys like that.”