EAGAN — Even when he’s talking about players from other teams, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer gets excited about great defensive talent. A smile came across his face on Friday when he was asked about Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
“He’s a compact guy that is very, very quick and strong as well,” Zimmer said. “Geno Atkins is another guy very similar to him that has great quickness, but then they can use power as well, so if you start sitting back on them all of a sudden they start powering you. He’s just a really, really good football player.”
The 26-year-old defensive tackle did damage against the run and pass last year, ranking as Pro Football Focus’s 10th best run defender and sixth highest graded pass rusher. He finished 2018 with 53 QB pressures, which ranked sixth in the NFL.
Welcome to the NFL, Garrett Bradbury.
The rookie center heads up the revamped interior of the Vikings offensive line that includes veteran guard Josh Kline and former starting center Pat Elflein, who is now at left guard. The Vikings made Bradbury the highest selected center since Ryan Kelly was picked 18th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2016.
Like most of the Vikings starters, Bradbury saw very little preseason action, playing just 52 total snaps. Per PFF, he gave up one QB Hurry.
To Bradbury’s benefit, his partners on the O-line Elflein and Kline have played the entirety of training camp and preseason. Last season with injuries in training camp the Vikings were forced to trade for their opening day center. This time around the group has had plenty of time to develop chemistry.
“It’s always good to have the continuity not only with that group, but with every group. It’s nice to get out there and practice,” Zimmer said. [O’Neill] missed a decent amount of time, but he’s a smart guy and I think Josh (Kline) and him work well together. I think Bradbury helps him get on the right track, so it should be good.”
In recent history rookie offensive linemen have taken their fair share of lumps. Only three of 13 first-year linemen in 2018 scored higher than a 65 on PFF’s 1-100 grading system and two of the three were top-10 draft picks. In 2017 Elflein put together a solid rookie season in the middle but still ranked 21st of 30 centers with at least 700 snaps.
Early in camp, Bradbury talked about making sure he was prepared to lead the offense with protection calls.
“If I’m kind of hesitant with the call, if I’m late with the call, it just screws the other guys I’m playing with. I need to get up to the line, trust what I’m seeing and what I’m seeing at the moment and just make a call and go with it because with offensive line, if everyone is on the same page then it’s going to be a pretty good play,” Bradbury said. “Just understanding that I need to make a call early and be confident with it and vocalize it, communicate to everyone on the line and get reps with these guys.”
With the Falcons defense healthier than last season, the entire line will have to be on the same page in order to protect Kirk Cousins, who was sacked 40 times last season.