Bradbury battling to keep starting job at center for Vikings

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Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell acknowledged center Garrett Bradbury's obvious struggles in pass protection early in training camp and said the 2019 first-round draft pick has not locked up the starting position ahead of veteran backups Austin Schlottmann and Chris Reed.

"Absolutely, there's still competition," O'Connell said Saturday. "We're still trying to work through these padded practice opportunities. You'll continue to see some different combinations in there."

In his first three seasons, Bradbury ranked last, last and second to last among centers in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus. Early in camp, he has been beaten badly by Harrison Phillips in one-on-one drills, and also has struggled when defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has schemed ways to attack the middle during 11-on-11 situational periods.

Asked Saturday to evaluate Bradbury, O'Connell first hailed his understanding and production in the run game. He also said Bradbury has had "some strong performances" in pass protection before admitting the obvious struggles.

"That's where we're challenging him each and every time; technique, technique," O'Connell said. "He's got a good anchor when he's got his feet underneath him."

Bradbury told reporters earlier this summer how he's added 10 pounds in an effort to be more stout this season.

"I think he has the strength to hold up," O'Connell said. "I think he has the technique to hold up. I think we can do some things with how we protect to try to limit some of the [one-on-one] situations by how we scheme up certain fronts.

"I think it's too early to make any kind of [final] assessment," O'Connell said. "I'm definitely not worried."

Bradbury has handled all the first-team reps so far this camp. Schlottmann, a guard-center with 581 career snaps at center in three years with Denver, was handling most of the second-team center snaps until Tuesday, when Reed moved from backup left guard to center for the day.

Reed, a 30-year-old from Minnesota State Mankato, has 29 career starts but has yet to play a regular-season game at center. He botched two snaps — a shotgun snap to Kellen Mond and an under-center exchange with Sean Mannion — on Tuesday. Third-string center Josh Sokol also botched an exchange with Mond on Tuesday.

"Some of my more stronger frustrations in camp is when the ball's been on the ground via quarterback-center exchange," O'Connell said.

That being said, O'Connell said he believes Reed, as an experienced veteran, "can handle" all that goes into a transition from guard to center. And that remains an option for O'Connell as long as Bradbury continues to struggle.

NotesRunning back/kick returner Kene Nwangwu returned Saturday from a lower-leg injury and practiced full-go in pads.O'Connell said tight end Irv Smith Jr.'s right thumb surgery was to repair ligament damage.The defense won the situational drills at the end of Saturday's practice. Blitzing linebackers Eric Kendricks and Luiji Vilain forced Kirk Cousins into a drive-ending deep-ball incompletion for the first-team offense. The second-team offense's drive ended with linebacker Blake Lynch intercepting Mond. Earlier, Mond also was intercepted by Cam Bynum.TCO Performance Center lost power early in the day. The Vikings closed practice to the public with the intention of practicing indoors. They ended up practicing outdoors when the rain cleared.