A New Viking Emerges as an Option at Center
Garrett Bradbury has been hard at work healing from a back injury. For the most part, Austin Schlottmann has done a nice job replacing the starter. After all, stepping into the featured job is no small feat, especially when the schedule kicks over players like Vita Vea, Jordan Davis, Fletcher Cox, and Derrick Brown.
However, if Schlottmann couldn’t go at center, a new Viking would need to step in.
In a perfect world, Bradbury will return before long. Even better would be an upward trajectory for the former 1st-round selection once he gets back onto the field, a path forward that involves building off of the many positives he displayed in his 2022 season. What happens, though, if Schlottmann needs to miss time before Bradbury hops back into the saddle?
Before the Panthers game, Kevin O’Connell spent a few moments discussing his offensive line. A small, seemingly insignificant detail emerged when discussing Blake Brandel, a 4th-year offensive lineman who has mostly been a depth option in his career.
“Blake had a great training camp,” O’Connell notes, “He has been available and really working the three interior spots as well. He is part of that discussion each and every week of making sure we are putting the best five guys out there with the chance to move the ball.”
Catch that? O’Connell is leaning on Brandel to be a left guard, center, and right guard. Or, at least, he’s doing so in practice.
A New Viking Emerges: The Supremely Versatile Blake Brandel
In college, a left tackle. Since coming to the NFL, Brandel has been a left tackle, right guard, and jumbo tight end. The 2023 season has featured Brandel being listed as the primary backup at RG, but that has yet to lead to playing time in that position.
Entering the 2020 NFL Draft, Brandel received praise for being technically sound. Take a look at what the league’s website had to say:
Likely tackle-to-guard position switch due to his lack of length and consistency in pass protection. Brandel is a durable blocker who lacks guard mass, but he works on the nuances of his position, which helps his cause. He understands angles and techniques but is an average athlete with below-average core power and play strength. He gives too much ground to bull-rushers, which is a concern no matter which position he plays up front. He doesn’t figure to be a plus run blocker in any scheme. A spot on a practice squad should be his goal for 2020.
Brandel actually made the team, and his ability to survive the mass exodus of Rick Spielman talent speaks to how highly he’s valued among the current decision makers in Eagan.
To be sure, Brandel’s ascension to starting center is far from becoming a reality. Garrett Bradbury is getting close to returning. Schlottmann has been durable and doing a nice job of competing, so the coaching staff won’t be deviating from him anytime soon (that is, until Bradbury gets back).
The appeal of Brandel, though, is that he can function as an emergency option if something occurs. In fact, there’s no exaggeration in saying that the 6’7″, 315-pound lineman can play any of the spots within the front five. Not too many NFLers can make that claim, folks.
So much of the recent attention has been devoted toward Dalton Risner’s playing time, or lack thereof. Lurking in the background has been Brandel, who is quietly a solid player and someone of increased importance since Oli Udoh was lost for the year.
Still only 26, Brandel has logged 273 snaps at left tackle, 1 snap at right guard, and 65 snaps at tight end in his career. Before it’s all said and done, Brandel may get some play at left guard, center, and right tackle. Completing the full o-line bingo card is a rare accomplishment.
Minnesota’s next game occurs at U.S. Bank Stadium and will feature the Kansas City Chiefs as the opponent. A pile of the headlines will be used on Patrick Mahomes — and maybe a few devoted to Taylor Swift — but DT Chris Jones threatens to take over the game by consistently collapsing the pocket. Bradbury may be ready in time, but if he isn’t the task will fall to Schlottmann to corral the All Pro defender.
If, however, there needs to be someone else to snap the football, look for Blake Brandel to get the call.
Editor’s Note: Information from PFF helped with this piece.
K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.