There is little doubt remaining that the Minnesota Vikings will be turning to a rookie at the center position in 2019.
First-round pick Garrett Bradbury took the full allotment of first-team reps at center during Wednesday’s open practice at Vikings OTAs, while Pat Elflein got settled in his new post at left guard.
The former third-round pick looks to be switching positions after starting 27 games the last two seasons at center.
“Right now I’m just focusing on all left guard,” Elflein told reporters after practice.
The Vikings drafted Bradbury with the center position in mind, perhaps believing that Elflein was capable of moving back to guard, where he played prior to his senior year at Ohio State.
Coming off a frustrating 2018 offseason where he rehabbed surgeries on his ankle and shoulder, Elflein wasn’t able to take live reps until the regular season began. He got his first work in Week 3 and started the team’s remaining games, but he wasn’t graded kindly by the analytics website Pro Football Focus. Elflein’s pass blocking grade ranked 25th out of 27 centers with 50 percent of snaps, and his run-blocking grade came in last. He was also sandwiched between guards Tom Compton and Mike Remmers, who struggled at times throughout the season.
Year 3 is already shaping up better for Elflein, who was able to get back to his normal offseason training regiment.
“I was in the weight room; I wasn’t in the hospital this offseason,” Elflein said, “so you can just improve on all your strength, and working on force and just body composition. You can focus on improving your athletic ability instead of getting put back together.”
Elflein’s athletic ability will come into play within the Vikings’ zone-blocking scheme engineered by Kevin Stefanski, Gary Kubiak and new offensive line coach Rick Dennison. The new left guard got experience zone blocking at Ohio State, as well as in 2017 under Pat Shurmur’s play-calling when he posted a much better run-blocking grade (14th out of 30).
As a whole, the Vikings are looking to get back to their 2017 form when the offensive line improved enough to help Minnesota finish 13-3 with Case Keenum at quarterback. That year, they thrived with Elflein as a rookie center. Now they look to duplicate that feat with the rookie Bradbury. The North Carolina State product will now be making the pre-snap calls, and he’ll have a nice resource just inches to his left in Elflein.
“A rookie center is not an easy job coming in from college to the highest level and being the guy,” Elflein said. “Everyone is relying on a rookie who’s the youngest guy. There’s definitely some pressure on that position, so I’m helping him along.”
As for the man to whom Bradbury is snapping, Kirk Cousins is looking forward to settling in with a long-term fixture at center. The new quarterback didn’t experience much continuity with his centers in 2018 because of Elflein’s injury. Cornelius Edison was the first-team center for a large chunk of the preseason, while trade acquisition Brett Jones ended up starting Week 1.
“I look forward to him being here a long time,” Cousins said of Bradbury. “I said, “Garrett last year, I worked with — from the time I got here in April to the end of the season — probably four centers. So that’s less than ideal. I’d like to have you and I work together for about the next decade if that’s OK with you.'”
Injuries and absences
The projected starting offensive line wasn’t completely intact as right tackle Brian O’Neill sat out of practice with an undisclosed injury. Rashod Hill took first-team reps instead.
Mike Hughes, coming off last year’s ACL tear, was seen rehabbing with a brace on his left knee.
Tashawn Bower, spotted with a boot on his left leg in April, stretched with the team but did not participate.
David Morgan and Linval Joseph also stretched and sat out. Morgan’s injury was undisclosed, while head coach Mike Zimmer said that Joseph had offseason surgery but didn’t elaborate further. Joseph dealt with several lower-body injuries last season.
Stefon Diggs was absent from practice, but Cousins said he’d be back on Thursday. Diggs was the only Vikings player unaccounted for.