EAGAN. — On Day 1 of OTAs at TCO Performance Center, first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury was taking reps with the first team at center and Pat Elflein lined up on his left.
It wasn’t long ago that Elflein appeared to be the next player in a long line of great centers in Minnesota Vikings history. Now he’s asked to embrace a new job and new system.
“I was excited knowing that we’re getting another great lineman for this room,” Elflein said of the Bradbury pick. “Add tough guys, add depth. We got better as a unit and as a team when we drafted him.”
Last season Pro Football Focus rated Elflein as the league’s worst starting center. Following a strong rookie year in 2017, his sophomore season was greatly impacted by having surgery on both his ankle and shoulder last offseason. After injuring his ankle in the NFC Championship game, he didn’t start again until Week 4 of 2018.
“Being able to get my whole body strong and in condition…I was in the weight room, I wasn’t in a hospital this offseason,” Elflein said. “You can improve on all of your strengths and work on force, body composition, everything, focus on your athletic ability instead of getting put back together.”
Because of his track record as a two-year starter at guard in college, Elflein said he does not feel the transition to guard will be a significant change.
“It’s a little bit different,” Elflein said Wednesday. “Center, the ball is in your hands, you’re making the calls, that’s not my responsibility anymore so at the line of scrimmage I can focus on other things, getting out of my stance…the footwork is a little bit of a transition. When you’re playing center you have to go left and right so it isn’t that big of a transition.”
According to PFF, his performance in college was actually better at guard than center.
At guard in 2014 and 2015 Pat Elflein had an:
82.3 and 87.5 overall grade
73.8 and 80.5 pass block grade
84.9 and 88.5 run block grade
In 2016 at center Pat Elflein had an:
80.9 overall grade
66.5 pass block grade
88.2 run block grade https://t.co/UeIhdC61j1
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) April 23, 2019
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who played a role in preparing Elflein as a rookie for the talented interior defensive linemen in the NFC North, said the 2017 third-round pick has the personality makeup to make a quick adjustment.
“He has the attitude, he has the want-to. Everything he does, he gives you his best effort,” Josepph said. “Having that alone is going to take him a long way. He’s faster than most offensive linemen, he’s smarter than most offensive linemen. Now he’s going to have to get savvy and use that to his advantage.”
On Elflein’s move to guard, Quarterback Kirk Cousins said:
“He’s getting a lot of work in at guard, and obviously he can play center too. He’s had a lot of production and a lot of plays, and he’ll take another step here in year three. And know for me as a player, I took my biggest step year four. We’re always developing and improving, and I see Pat doing the same thing this year.”
One area where he won’t have to make a huge adjustment is to the Gary Kubiak-style zone running scheme. In 2017, the Vikings designed their scheme around Dalvin Cook, who is a strong fit for zone runs.
“We’ve run zone before here so it’s not too much different,” Elflein said. “I like it though. I really like coach Stefanski and all the offensive coaches that are putting this scheme together, it’s a lot of fun and I think it’s going to work. We have a lot of great players that will compliment it.”
The third-year lineman will also have his third O-line coach in three years in Rick Dennison.
“Very honest, there’s no gray area,” Elflein said of working with Dennison. “We can see everything very clear, which as a player is nice because we can just play and not have to think.”
With a rookie on his right, Elflein said he plans to continue the leadership role that earned him respect from the locker room as a rookie. He now adds the task of helping Bradbury adapt the same way that Nick Easton and Joe Berger did for him in 2017.
“A rookie center, it’s not an easy job to come in from college to the highest level and be the guy everyone is relying on, all the older veterans are relying on a rookie, definitely some pressure on that position, we’re helping him along,” Elflein said.