Carolina Panthers

N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury met with hometown Panthers. Would they be a match?

N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury, right, said he met with his hometown Carolina Panthers during his time in Mobile for the Senior Bowl.
N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury, right, said he met with his hometown Carolina Panthers during his time in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. ehyman@newsobserver.com

At the end of the day, Garrett Bradbury just wanted to play football.

It’s why he played both tight end and defensive end in high school at Charlotte Christian and ultimately why he switched to offensive line at N.C. State after redshirting his first year. It worked out for him. During his final season, he was an All-American and Rimington Trophy winner, awarded to college football’s best center.

But he didn’t necessarily switch positions because he thought he’d be great. He just wanted to play more.

“I just wanted to play as many snaps as possible. So I wanted to move to D-Line, and then that transitioned to O-Line. I knew I was going to get a ton of reps on the O-Line, so that was the deciding factor for me. I just wanted to play, I didn’t care where I was going to play or where I was going to play the most.

“Offensive linemen typically don’t come off the field ... That’s what I was used to, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Bradbury started at left guard for the Wolfpack as a redshirt sophomore before moving to center in 2017 and 2018. At 6-foot-2, 304 pounds, he’s currently the second-ranked center in the 2019 draft class per CBS Sports, and the The Draft Network’s composite second-ranked interior offensive lineman.

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, who spent 18 years as an NFL scout, raved about Bradbury’s seemingly seamless transition from tight end to interior offensive lineman. But he sees him playing one position in the NFL.

“He was so much fun to watch just in terms of being able to get out and pull and move and play in space,” Nagy said. “Zone-blocking teams are going to love this guy. His initial quickness is off the charts. I remember just him reaching three-technique (defensive linemen) — he makes it look so easy. There’s been some players where you’ve really got to grind through some tape to really get a feel, where Garrett Bradbury kind of jumped right out with what his skill set is and what he was good at.

“Digging in, I didn’t realize he wasn’t a lineman at one time because he’s got really nice feel, takes great angles, sees things really well. I think he’s a center only. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, and that would really hurt him if he were projecting as a backup, but someone’s going to draft that guy to be the starter.”

Bradbury doesn’t see it that way, however. He said offensive linemen can’t afford to limit themselves to one position in the NFL and he’s no different.

“I can move around,” he said. “No one is just one position on the O-Line in the NFL, (teams) can only travel with about seven guys, so I’d consider myself an interior lineman. Both guards, center — whatever a team needs.”

That attitude is no surprise to Charlotte Christian head coach Jason Estep, who’s known Bradbury since the latter was in middle school and coached him in high school. To an extent, it’s a demeanor fostered by what Estep called a “very competitive environment” at Charlotte Christian — both academically and athletically.

No matter what he was asked to do, Estep said Bradbury believed he could do it — and do it well, at that.

Old habits die hard.

“Garrett’s got some dog in him and if he’s put in the right spot, he was going to flourish,” Estep said. “NC State was patient, they had to move him around. I think that shows a little bit of Garrett’s humility and wanting to be a team player. If he’s fortunate enough and stays healthy, he’s going to make money doing it.

“I think it’s what’s going to make Garrett very successful — he’s ultra-competitive and it really didn’t matter what position he played, he was going to get after people ... That’s just his personality, that ‘I can do anything and I can be good at anything I do.’”

One team that could use his services is his hometown Carolina Panthers, who Bradbury said met with him this week. The Panthers’ longtime starting center, Ryan Kalil, retired following the 2018 season, leaving Tyler Larsen as the presumed heir to the position. Carolina signed Larsen to a two-year extension last season but could use more depth behind an offensive line owner David Tepper said, “looked like a disaster” in 2018.

You’d think it’d be a dream come true for any NFL hopeful to get drafted by their hometown team — and Bradbury is no exception. But like most prospects at the Senior Bowl, he said he doesn’t necessarily care where he’s drafted.

Once again, he just wants to play.

“It’d be awesome. I think my parents would be more excited than I would. I just want to go somewhere and play football,” he said. “I don’t really care where. It’d be awesome for my family, be a little easier on them. But like I said, I just want to go somewhere and play football.”

Bradbury is in Mobile with several teammates, including N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley, who called Bradbury his best friend and longtime roommate. They will train together in Finley’s hometown of Phoenix in preparation for the draft shortly after the Senior Bowl wraps.

It may be far from his own home, but it probably didn’t take much convincing for Bradbury to agree to ditch the Carolinas for the desert.

As long as football is involved, he’s in.

Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.
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