Vikings center Garrett Bradbury spent the early part of the team’s offseason in Denver, training at a gym he called a “one-stop shop” with everything he’d need for his first full NFL offseason.
“Thankfully, since it was a one-on-one facility, it never shut down, so I’ve never not had gym access,” Bradbury said in a video conference with reporters Wednesday. “We were taking all the protocols necessary, and I was checking vitals daily before entering the facility.”
In April, though, Bradbury and his fiancée decided they wanted to be back in Minnesota. It led them to wide receiver Adam Thielen’s Lakeville gym, which has become something of an outpost for Vikings players looking to work together at a time when team facilities still are shut down.
“We’re keeping the groups extremely small. There’s quite a few Vikings,” he said. “I don’t know — it’s hard to say — but in my group, I know the line, it’s me and AC [guard Aviante Collins], and Dakota Dozier actually just got out here. But it’s good. It’s great workouts, and it’s good to be able to still get workouts in through all this craziness.”
It’s allowed Bradbury to do some on-field work with teammates who might be lining up next to him this fall, as the Vikings continue with their virtual offseason. Every little bit could help. Transition could again be the norm for a position group the team has taken pains to improve.
Barring a move to bring back right guard Josh Kline (who was released for salary-cap savings in March), the Vikings will have at least one new starter next to Bradbury, and could be on the way to more changes if players such as Collins, second-year guard Dru Samia or rookie tackle Ezra Cleveland show they’re ready to compete for jobs right away.
The Vikings’ seemingly annual effort to upgrade the line, though, has started this spring without five players able to work on the field together in OTAs. Congregating with teammates at Thielen’s gym in Lakeville is an ad hoc effort by Bradbury to recreate what he’d normally have during spring practices in Eagan with offensive line coach Rick Dennison and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
“Two days a week, we’re getting on the field and doing football work, and we’re going through whatever we would be doing for an individual period with Coach Dennison,” Bradbury said. “That’s the beauty of being up here and being with some linemen, and I know that the guys in other cities are doing the same thing.
“Coach Kubiak keeps going back to, ‘Guys, we would be in Week 2 of OTAs right now; what would you all be doing right now to prepare for the season?’ I know that everyone’s doing that.”
The Vikings’ virtual meetings, Bradbury said, have included efforts to give players a degree of ownership over the things they normally would be executing on the field.
“Something that Coach Dennison has been doing is turning the mic over to us,” Bradbury said. “He’s like, ‘I’m sick of talking. I want to hear you guys talk.’ So he will put a play up there and say, ‘Dakota Dozier, talk me through this play,’ and he goes from left tackle to right tackle to tight ends to running backs and everyone’s assignment.
“Hearing everyone talk through these plays and know the whole system is huge because I know as a center that if I have Dru next to me, Dakota next to me, Pat [Elflein] next to me, [Collins] next to me, I know that they all know what they’re doing, I know that they’re good and I can just focus on my job.”
Kubiak, the assistant head coach in 2019, stepped into the offensive coordinator role in January.
“That’s the beauty of having the same room and the same system, which is a very underrated thing,” Bradbury said. “We have the same playbook.”
The challenges of executing it effectively, however, remain for the Vikings. For now, their second-year center is doing what he can to lead the effort.
“I think in terms of improvement, consistency is kind of the biggest thing for me,” he said. “It’s such a long season, so you watch a few stretches where you have a few good games and you kind of don’t have such a good game, and so with all this time you’re able to reflect on, ‘What was I doing, what was I not doing, that was kind of prohibiting me from having the consistency?’
“And something I pride myself in is being able to get better from year to year, from game to game, and so that’s kind of my goal this offseason.”