EAGAN, Minn. – Center Garrett Bradbury is grateful for the Vikings coaching staff, but he’s also not taking for granted the resource right beside him.
Bradbury, whom the Vikings drafted 18th overall in April, addressed Twin Cities media members following Tuesday afternoon’s training camp practice. The rookie spoke highly of Pat Elflein, who started at center for Minnesota in 2017 and 2018 before embracing a position switch to left guard upon Bradbury’s arrival.
Elflein played guard and center at Ohio State, where he was awarded the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2016. Bradbury received the award in 2018.
Rookies and select veterans reported to Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday and practiced for the first time Tuesday. Elflein and other veterans will report Thursday and practice Friday, but Bradbury was able to speak to the lessons he learned during the spring offseason program.
“Pat has been awesome. I can’t say enough good things about Pat,” Bradbury said. “He understands offensive line play. He was a rookie two years ago, so he can mentor me in things – what helped him, what didn’t help him – so he’s been awesome for me, and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him and from older guys like him.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to media members earlier in the day after the team’s walk-through session and acknowledged the benefit for Bradbury to play next to a former center.
When Elflein joined the Vikings as a rookie in 2017, he had the benefit of learning from two centers-turned-guards in Nick Easton and Joe Berger.
“I think it always helps to have somebody who has done that job before,” Zimmer said. “I’m sure there will be times when Pat or Kirk [Cousins] will have to correct Garrett on some things.”
Zimmer also emphasized, however, that Bradbury is a “brilliant kid” who is handling well the transition to the NFL.
“He’s going to have a big load, and a time like today will help him get back into the groove of things a little bit,” Zimmer said. “[And he will] get help from the veteran offensive linemen and [Vikings offensive line coaches] Rick Dennison and Andrew Janocko.”
Although Bradbury understands and appreciates the benefit of the Vikings holding three days of practices for 37 rookies and select veterans before the whole team comes together Friday, he also is antsy to get the entire offensive line group back together.
“Individually, I’d just like to work on everything I can these days, but at the end of the day, I think offensive line is unique because you need that camaraderie, that unity, getting those reps together,” Bradbury explained.
He is glad to continue building a similar camaraderie with Cousins, who is participating in this portion of camp along with the Vikings other three quarterbacks, Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter and Jake Browning.
Bradbury pointed out that Cousins has dedicated himself to “really understanding” the protections that the offensive line uses, and the rookie center has appreciated the opportunity to talk through them with Cousins and the coaching staff.
“Just getting more comfortable with him, you know, I can’t take enough snaps with the quarterback and other guys next to me,” Bradbury said.
“Ideally you want it to be like just getting [back] on a bike,” he added of returning after five weeks of downtime. “Everyone goes home … and trains and stays ready so you can just come back and, like you never left, jump back into it and keep running the plays.”
Minnesota will be running a new system this year under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and with the influence of Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak and the other new coaches added to the Vikings staff this offseason.
The benefit to this, Bradbury pointed out, is that it isn’t only the rookies learning the playbook.
“We can kind of [bounce] things off of each other, learn together throughout this,” Bradbury said. “I mean, there’s a wealth of knowledge in the O-line room, but it’s a new system for them at the same time. So, we’re kind of learning together, which has been good as a rookie.”
Asked if he has a “leg up” after running an outside zone scheme at N.C. State, Bradbury declined to use that term but acknowledged that it’s helpful to understand the system and see its advantages.
“It’s a play that I love running as an offensive lineman, and it’s a really good scheme,” Bradbury said. “Obviously these coaches (Kubiak and Co.) have run it a lot, for several years, so I think the guys in the locker room who haven’t been a part of it understand how good it can be, just from the OTAs that we had.
“So I think everybody is really excited about this different kind of run scheme and pass scheme that we’re [offensively doing],” he added.
As the starting center, Bradbury will naturally be looked to as a leader of the position group. He was asked by a reporter about progress in the playbook and feeling comfortable being more vocal with teammates.
He responded that “trusting the preparation” is most important in taking those steps.
“I’ve been studying the playbook a lot, so I just need to be confident with my calls – that’s really what it boils down to,” Bradbury said. “If I’m kind of hesitant with a call, if I’m late with a call, it [hurts] the other guys that I’m playing with. So, I just need to get up to the line, trust what I’m seeing at the moment and just make a call and go with it.
“With offensive line, if everyone’s on the same page, then it’s going to be a pretty good play,” he continued. “So just understanding that I need to make a call early and be confident with it, vocalize it, communicate it to everyone on the O-line and just get reps with these guys.”
And as for Zimmer’s thoughts on the topic?
“He’s got a very business-like personality, wants to be right, wants to do things the right way. I think he’s got an aggressive nature,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s going to fit in fine.”