Keith hoping to shed ‘knucklehead' moves

Brandon Keith is in good position to fight for a roster spot among the Vikings' offensive linemen. However, he knows his college and NFL career could have been more stable if not for some decisions he described as fitting in the "knucklehead" category.

Vikings offensive lineman Brandon Keith knew Adrian Peterson when the NFL MVP was "skinny and just 185 pounds." That's when the two were teammates briefly at the University of Oklahoma.

That's also when Keith was a "knucklehead" and made decisions that sent his college career into a nomadic endeavor. The lessons from those college days and early days in the NFL have helped shape Keith's attitude this summer as he vies for a spot as a reserve offensive lineman.

After being a three-star recruit, according to, and ranked No. 65 nationally among offensive linemen coming out of McAlester (Okla.) High School, Keith left Oklahoma to attend a junior college because of grades. But that wasn't humbling enough, because he says he still had a big opinion of himself when he transferred back to Oklahoma (he also received interested from Florida and Nebraska, among others). Eventually, he ended up at Northern Iowa.

"When I left the University of Oklahoma, it was more of just being young, knucklehead, not really understanding what I was doing, being a high school All-American and all that stuff, being full of it," he said. "When you go somewhere where you've always been coveted and you see guys that are just as good as you are and they're hard-working guys, it just took me time to understand that I had to work for what I wanted instead of it just being handed to me."

He admitted some of his issues at Oklahoma were disciplinary and others "not really buying into what was being done."

But even after he was "humbled" in transferring to Northern Iowa, which he called a "beautiful opportunity," he had enough talent to become a seventh-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals.

He spent four seasons with the Cardinals, playing in 26 games and starting 20.

"It was just a real good learning situation because I got to experience just how much I really love playing. You realize the opportunity is short," he said of playing for the Cardinals. "It's not like what I had was career-ending or I was knucklehead, like I was out being arrested every night or had a drug problem. … That's the only thing about my professional career I regret, even back with Arizona, I could have did a lot of things different, especially when it came to my medical situation."

Keith spent his final two games of 2011 with the Cardinals on injured reserve because of a third-degree ankle sprain. But it was a clean-up on a knee that caused the most concern from teams he visited last year. He had dropped to 307 pounds (he used to play at 340) and teams were concerned he wasn't doing the rehab he needed. With a year to think about it, he agrees.

He went to Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona, where he prepared for the NFL Scouting Combine in 2008. He started training in earnest again and learning about proper nutrition, even drinking protein shakes that he had previously shunned.

When the Vikings offered him a chance to try out during their rookie minicamp – despite him playing four seasons in the NFL already – it was a bit humbling. But it was also an opportunity he then knew he needed to capitalize upon.

"It wasn't like it was a desperate situation. It wasn't where I had to swallow my pride, but just coming in showing them that I'm willing to work," he said. "I could have came in and I knew all the stuff and I could have been still dominant. But if I'm arrogant or cocky, that could have been a strike against me, like the kid is good but he's not what we need.

"That's one thing I wanted to shed. That guy's been gone since I was 21 years old."

His previous experience has taught him that opportunities are precious, a message he tries to pass down to younger teammates these days, along with a message that putting in extra time can always help.

"I just do everything as I have as a rookie, like sitting extra in meetings," he said. "The game is so visual, that's what's helped me out. It's a simple analogy, but if you really study your opponent, you'll know what to do. It's not about how athletically gifted you are. I told them, ‘There's a lot of great athletes, but they can't play football and that's what separates a lot of people from being good, great or decent.'"

Keith's category is yet to be determined with the Vikings.

With Matt Kalil out of practice on Sunday and Monday, Keith and Kevin Murphy got turns at left tackle with the first-team offense. That should be a signal to him he has a chance to resume his NFL career if he isn't the self-described knucklehead he was back in college that knocked out his first opportunity to block for Peterson.

These days, it seems, the indiscretions of his youth have become a learning experience and his passion for the game is showing.

"When I would go visit other teams, they would say, ‘You're fiery.' I would say, ‘I'm fiery on game days because I love playing. I get upset when you get beat for a play or you feel like it was a bad call.' That's part of being able to play," he said. "Even though I play, I'm still a fan. I'm going to be emotional, but not crazy to where I'm going to choke a referee."

And, he hopes, not crazy enough to choke away another opportunity.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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