McKinnon knows where he needs improvement

Jerick McKinnon’s role hasn’t been defined yet, but he knows his weakness, one that will have to improve if he is going to keep defenses guessing.

If Jerick McKinnon is going to secure a role as a third-down back, which many see as one of his assets, there is one area of his game he’ll need to improve in order to avoid becoming a one-trick Viking.

“The biggest thing that was a challenge for me coming out at the Senior Bowl was the pass protection. I had never done it, but I feel like I’m getting a lot more comfortable with it over the last few weeks after rookie minicamp, OTAs – I’m definitely getting a bead on it,” McKinnon said as he progressed through the Vikings’ offseason practice schedule.

“I’m recognizing it a lot quicker. There are still some things I could tweak and be a lot better. I’ll always say that because it’s never one part that you can’t work on. I would definitely say just keep critiquing myself on that and playing hard and just doing what I know I can do.”

Rookie running backs often struggle to pick up the blitz effectively, and given McKinnon’s history at Georgia Southern as a jack of many trades but a novice at blocking, it stands to reason that aspect of his game has to be a focus for his offensive coaches.

McKinnon did plenty for the Eagles in college. He rushed for 3,899 yards over his four-year career, including two 1,000-yard seasons, caught 10 passes, threw 81 of them, returned four kickoffs and made four tackles. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman called McKinnon’s pro day impressive, as he did drills for running backs, receivers, return men and even cornerbacks.

But with so many responsibilities at Georgia Southern, blocking wasn’t a priority. He showed in organized team activities that he has the quickness and moves to be a dangerous runner, but he wants to improve his consistency in everything.

“Just being a rookie you get a lot thrown at you, so just getting the offense down to the point where I can play more smoothly and not have to focus on messing up or second-guessing myself,” McKinnon said. “Just knowing my assignment and knowing what I need to do and then going out there and playing 100 percent like I know I can.”

McKinnon said the transition to the Vikings has been good, but he wasn’t ready to say that he would fit into Norv Turner’s offense in any specific way, despite Turner finding solid roles for quick backs like McKinnon in previous coaching tours.

“I’m not going to say I fit in in any particular way, but I think I can do a lot of the things that he asks for in a running back,” he said. “Whatever role I’m put into this year – offense, special teams, whatever it may be – I’ll do it to the best of my abilities. I’m just looking for an opportunity.”

That opportunity could come on special teams, although he might not be ready for a role as a returner just yet.

“He’s a unique athlete. He’s not a real big guy, but he has great speed and quickness,” special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “He can be a backup returner; I don’t think he’s quite ready to take over that role yet, but he can be a backup returner, he can help on the punt team, probably as a wing. I have him working as a wing and as a personal protector, what we call a fullback, probably on kickoff and punt return as well, because he’s got great feet and uses his hands well. On kickoff, you don’t know if he can tackle. He’s been asked to play a lot of quarterback (in college), but he’s a tough kid and I look forward to working with him.”

McKinnon knows he’s not going to unseat Adrian Peterson, one of his idols growing up, anytime soon, but McKinnon believes adding to the depth at the running back position will be critical. Being able to contribute and “play as a rookie” are his initial goals.

“We’ve got a lot of talented guys that can do a lot of the things that the coaches are asking for. At any given moment, it may be somebody else’s opportunity,” he said. “I’m just going to fit in and not miss a beat – keep the offense on the same page and keep the tempo rolling.”

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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