Training camp is in full swing for the Minnesota Vikings, and players are performing admirably across the depth chart. Rookie cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr. has been lauded for his “dawg” mentality, regularly getting into it with receivers. But while Booth has reportedly had a strong camp, the spot he is vying for looks like Cam Dantzler’s to lose. The top three wideouts are essentially set, but there is a heated battle for the fourth and fifth receiving spots.
Even rookie first-round selection Lewis Cine will have to fight for a starting spot. While he hasn’t been bad so far in camp, second-year safety Camryn Bynum has his eyes on securing a starting spot. He has routinely been lining up with the first-team defense alongside Harrison Smith.
Depth-chart uncertainty is a relatively good problem to have as a coaching staff. There were depth concerns heading into camp, and it appears that many players, new and old, are exceeding expectations. Teams won’t complain about having too many good players, and injuries are bound to occur, testing the back end of a team’s roster.
Yet, with all the new hope and promise that Kevin O’Connell and Co. have brought into camp, the offense’s recurring nightmare has come to life again. Fourth-year center Garrett Bradbury, Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2019, appears to be still struggling to anchor when facing powerful defensive linemen.
Bradbury has always been a middle-of-the-road run blocker. Pro Football Focus has never graded his run-blocking lower than 60.7. However, he has always struggled against the pass. Standing 6’3” and only 306 lbs., Bradbury often gets beat by the massive interior defensive linemen he is tasked with blocking. He received his highest pass-blocking grade from PFF in 2021. That was a rating of 43.7, the lowest among 26 centers that played at least half of their team’s offensive snaps.
On Tuesday, several media members reported that eighth-year offensive lineman Chris Reed was taking snaps at center with the second-stringers. That slid Alex Schlottmann to right guard alongside Reed with the second team. Many observers believed this could signal that Reed was pushing for Bradbury’s job.
The Vikings brought Reed and Schlottman (along with Jesse Davis and second-round pick Ed Ingram) in to bolster the interior offensive line. Unfortunately, these players mostly have experience at guard. Schlottman is the only player besides Bradbury to line up at center in the NFL, and he only has taken 25 snaps there.
Many fans have already called for Bradbury’s job. It’s certainly disconcerting to see him continue to get overpowered by players like nose tackle Harrison Phillips multiple times on the same day. But is it truly necessary to change things up for the sake of change, especially at such a vital position? Blocking is important, of course. However, making protection calls is as vital, if not more important, for the offense as a whole.
While Bradbury’s pass-blocking grade was putrid, he was still rated 22nd out of 27 overall among qualifying centers (playing more than 50% of offensive snaps) during the regular season with a rating of 60.2. This was above Green Bay’s Lucas Patrick (57.2) and Cincinnati’s Trey Hopkins (51.4). Neither of those teams had the league’s best offensive lines, yet the offenses continued to hum.
Bradbury’s grade was also substantially lower than Brian Allen, O’Connell’s center in Los Angeles last season. LA’s center, who was actually smaller than Bradbury at 6’2”, 303 lbs., ranked fourth-overall in the NFL last year with an overall PFF grade of 80.2. But while his 87.4 run-block grade was fourth among qualifying centers, his 63.5 pass-block grade ranked 18th out of 27.
But Allen wasn’t a cinch to be one of the league’s best centers heading into last season. In fact, Austin Corbett was the Rams’ starting center during OTAs in 2021. Allen was a fourth-round pick in 2018 who saw the field sparingly as a rookie before playing erratically in 2019. His PFF grades actually looked similar to Bradbury’s. He posted a run-block grade of 67.7 and a pass-block grade of 45.4.
Then, Allen didn’t even play in 2020. The thought of him in the starting lineup seemed like lunacy to fans who had seen him struggle in 2019. However, he churned out the best season of his career in 2021, helping lead the Rams to a Super Bowl. While his pass-blocking didn’t set the world on fire, and actually ranked seventh among all Rams O-linemen, LA’s offense was still efficient.
So does Garrett Bradbury need to improve? Absolutely. We’ve seen him get overpowered in the passing game enough in the past that the early reports in camp feel like we’re doomed to see the same sub-par performance. But, as Brian Allen showed in LA last year, teams don’t need an All-Pro at center to produce an effective offense. Hopefully, Kevin O’Connell brings some of those tricks with him to help Bradbury.