EAGAN — When the Minnesota Vikings drafted center Garrett Bradbury with the 18th overall pick, they probably knew that the first quarter of his NFL career was going to be a rough one.
They opened up the season facing three top-notch interior defensive linemen in the first four weeks with Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett, Green Bay’s Kenny Clark and Chicago’s Eddie Goldman lining up directly over the former NC State standout. Bradbury’s performances reflected his competition. Pro Football Focus graded him as the worst center in the NFL over the first four weeks with grades under 50 (out of 100) in the games against the three monster defensive tackles.
Since he gave up five QB pressures at Soldier Field in Week 4, Bradbury has seen his game take a step forward. He played a significant role in the offense making massive strides in the second quarter of the schedule. Over the last four games, he’s given up three total pressures and scored grades above 65 each week. Since Week 4 he’s been the third best center by PFF’s standards.
“He’s a young player — I don’t know if they are rookies anymore — that is getting better each week because he’s seeing something different each week,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “Week in and week out there are going to be some guys lining up across from you up front that are really good football players. He’s run the gamut of players with different sizes, styles so I think it’s just a matter of reps and learning from each one of those reps.”
The offensive line as a whole has shown serious improvement since last season. After Week 8, PFF ranked them as the 11th best overall line this season.
“With any offensive line the more reps and plays you get to play together…I think we’re just getting to a place where those five guys up front are playing as one, which is really what you need,” Stefanski said.
Cousins’s Player of the Month award
The Vikings’ improved O-line performance has correlated with blazing hot play from quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was given the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month after throwing for 10 touchdowns, 315 yards per game and registering a 137.1 rating in October.
“I think it’s a great individual honor but I think even Kirk would tell that it reflects on your teammates, somebody has to catch those balls, somebody is protecting for him…proud of him, he earned that but as much as it’s an individual the rest of the offensive players can take pride in that achievement,” Stefanski said.
Adding to Cousins’s feat is the fact that he played one and three quarters of the four games without star receiver Adam Thielen.
“Just proud of him and the way he’s handled everything and the way he focuses and his attitude and the way he goes about his business,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “Those are the things we see every day, whether it be OTAs, training camp, we see that fire under him every single day so it’s not surprising to us but we are proud of it.”
Thielen’s status still in question
When Thielen walked to the podium on Thursday, he said he already knew that the first question was going to be about his health. As you might expect, he was dodgy about whether he expects to be in the lineup on Sunday. He has been limited on Wednesday and Thursday and will likely be questionable for Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I didn’t take every rep that I normally take but at the same time, this time of the season you are not taking every rep, there’s just no point to it at this point,” Thielen said. “Just making sure the body is feeling good by Sunday.”
The Pro Bowl receiver, who missed a game due to injury for the first time in his career last Thursday, said it hasn’t been easy waiting to come back from his hamstring issue.
“It’s definitely tough, it’s a way that God’s testing me because I’m not very good with patience,” Thielen said.
Heading to face the No. 2 team in the NFL in yards per play, the Vikings may need both of their receivers in place if the game turns into a shootout. Stefanski said, however, that other players can step up if need be.
“Those two guys are two special football players so it allows you to balance the field out when they are on either side and I can imagine for defenses you could try to take one away or try to take both away but that’s where we have to have depth,” Stefanski said. “And we do have depth at each of our positions and trust of each of our positions to make a play when teams want to take those guys away.”
Diggs’s fumbling issue
Stefon Diggs has had a remarkable last three weeks, gaining at least 140 yards and catching seven passes in each contest. He has had one problem: Fumbling. After going three years without losing a fumble, he’s lost three this year.
“I think we’ve addressed anything that we’ve fallen short on offensively, individually, collectively,” Stefanski said. “I think what was nice about this last week, we have eight games under our belt, we could address things like that. Certain Stefon knows that’s something that can’t happen and it just goes back to a technique, an awareness. I will tell you that…he’s well on his way to correcting it.”
Dan Bailey’s strong start
The Vikings nearly fumbled their kicking situation this offseason when they traded a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik but they ultimately made the right call keeping veteran Dan Bailey. He’s gone 12-for-14 on field goals (with a long of 50) and missed just one extra point.
Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said that he is proud of Bailey for winning Special Teams Player of the Week twice this season.
“I think he’s in a good place, I think he’s very even-keeled,” Maalouf said. “That’s kind of what you want in a kicker, someone who doesn’t get too high on the highs and low on the lows. Have a DB’s mentality if something doesn’t work out.”
One of the key elements to his improvement has been finding a solid holder in punter Britton Colquitt. Plus rookie long snapper Austin Cutting has not had any hiccups after taking over for Kevin McDermott.
“The good thing is that we tried a lot of things out in the summer time and we learned something from every group, every equation that we threw out there,” Maalouf said. “Obviously we always kept track of Britton [Colquitt] and his situation and we felt really good about Austin [Cutting]. Forming that level of consistency, even having a week to train and everything, it’s a credit to them. They’ve done a really good job.”