EKSTROM: Bradbury Selection Got Stamp of Approval From Vikings Offensive -- and Defensive -- Coaches

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When the Minnesota Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak to be their new offensive assistant/consultant/guru in January, they also got a college scout.

Kubiak had taken on a less stressful role after stepping down as Denver Broncos head coach due to health reasons. He spent 2018 helping Denver get a jump start on the 2019 draft class. Turns out, all that film-watching made him a resourceful tool for his new organization in Minnesota.

The longtime offensive coach had his eye on Garrett Bradbury early, long before he knew he’d be coaching the North Carolina State product with the Vikings.

“Gary Kubiak had an opportunity to, all fall, basically evaluate a lot of college football players,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “and this was one of his favorite guys with the offensive group.”

Bradbury’s mobility was one of his finest traits — a perfect fit for Kubiak’s preferred zone blocking scheme. The Vikings have sought targets throughout the offseason to fulfill that niche; players not only to Kubiak’s liking but also Rick Dennison’s, the devoted Kubiak assistant with a similar vision for how the running game ought to be coordinated.

Dennison was part of the discussions with Bradbury throughout the offseason, which included meetings at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, where Bradbury wowed with a stellar 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill.

“It’s a four-month job interview,” Bradbury said on a conference call. “You just want to show everyone who you are throughout these steps. For Senior Bowl, we got to play football. We got to play in an NFL offensive line system, coaching staffs. Had a blast at that. The combine is a little different. You have to train for some technique things, and a 40, which hopefully an offensive lineman doesn’t have to go 40 yards full speed unless you’re celebrating. It’s just another step in the process and you have to treat it like a professional because that’s the goal.”

It’s believable that Bradbury was the Vikings’ number one target at their number one position of need. Only two offensive linemen had gone off the board before their 18th selection — tackle Jonah Williams and guard Chris Lindstrom. With a plethora of options available including Andre Dillard, Dalton Risner, Cody Ford and Jawaan Taylor (who suspiciously fell out of the first round), Minnesota opted for the Rimington Trophy winner, who will have a chance to play immediately at either left guard or center, depending on the team’s plan with Pat Elflein.

The Vikings have historically selected ACC prospects, taking them more than twice as often as draftees from other power conferences. The level of competition in the ACC provides many stout tests against defensive lines like Clemson’s, Miami’s or Virginia Tech’s. Minnesota defensive line coach Andre Patterson noticed Bradbury pushing around defensive line prospects during his own scouting work and popped into Zimmer’s office to give his recommendation.

“I was sitting in my office one day and Andre Patterson was watching all the defensive linemen, and obviously there’s a lot of great defensive linemen in this draft,” said Zimmer, “and he came in and he said, ‘Who’s this center from NC State? This guy is a really good football player.’

“And so that even intrigued me more because of the way he was playing against some of these top level defensive linemen in the ACC.”

Bradbury is not a project. At nearly 24 years old, he’s one of the older prospects in the draft — a logical choice to add to an offensive line expected to improve quickly and produce immediately. Though he’s old in years, he’s relatively young in offensive line experience, converting from tight end after his redshirt season. He began at guard before swapping to center, where he made his mark as a senior, playing nearly every snap for a talented Wolfpack offense that was led by a fellow draft prospect, quarterback Ryan Finley.

He helped block for 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Gallaspy II as well.

“I think [the run game] will be a big strength of his,” said Zimmer. “You know, the big thing is with these athletic guys, if you can get them moving sideways and you can get one guy cut out of the gap, then this one-cut downhill run game should really be good for Dalvin [Cook].”

There will be no complaints about the Bradbury pick. Kubiak and Dennison got their man. Patterson gets to test his defensive line against the center that caught his eye on film. And Zimmer, despite having to watch perfectly good corners fall down the board, said he was anxious about losing Bradbury as their pick got closer.

The coaching staff got its target. The fans can rest peacefully. All Bradbury has to do is fulfill the high expectations.

Piece of cake, right?

“I am ready to protect the quarterback, run the football,” Bradbury said. “If they want me to play any position, I am happy to play.”

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