Jerick McKinnon is far from Adrian Peterson in style and, so far, effectiveness. But the rookie running back is likely to see an increased role and getting used to assignments he didn’t have much as at Georgia Southern.
“He’s going to play. I mean, we have to play both those guys (including Matt Asiata),” Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “It’s a physical position and you just got to have more than one.”
McKinnon was a jack and back of all trades as a collegiate player with the Eagles. Since joining the Vikings as a third-round draft pick, his role has become more focused. In college, he attempted 81 passes, returned four kickoffs and, oh yeah, ran the ball 619 times for 3,899 yards.
But since joining the Vikings, even the running plays asked of the 5-foot-9, 208-pound back have been different, and with Peterson out, those runs between the tackles are expected to increase.
“We (ran) a lot of coast to coast and didn’t (run) downhill more,” McKinnon said of his college rushing assignments. “That was new for me coming out of college, the all-star game, etc. But I’ve been pretty comfortable doing this since we started.”
The biggest key, he said, is trusting that the designed hole between the tackles will be there instead of immediately trying to bounce the run outside, where he had so much success with Georgia Southern.
“Sometimes things get clogged up in the middle and (you need to) continue to check your feet in the hole, running with it, trust it, hit the hole hard and get what you can.”
To date, he has only three rushes for 8 yards, a 2.7-yard average after a preseason in which he rushed 22 times for 108 yards (4.9-yard average), including a 24-yard run.
“Trust” was a key word when he talked Wednesday about his experience so far and the learning curve that has accompanied it. Trust in the play that is called. Trust in the game plan. Trust in the techniques he has been learning.
That’s also what he’s trying to engender in the coaching staff.
“Just for them to trust in me and when I’m in there – they can call any play and not worry about me missing an assignment or anything like that,” he said.
One of the biggest struggles for rookie running backs has been correctly diagnosing and picking up the blitzes. His experience there was extremely limited in college, but he believes he has improved since being drafted in May.
“From preseason on, I think I’ve picked it up pretty good. I’d say I probably had about two bad reps at it in the game, one versus (Kansas City) and then one last week where I just didn’t finish the block,” he said. “But you watch the film to learn from it, come back and correct it.”
McKinnon isn’t likely to be the first option. That duty falls to Matt Asiata, who started last Sunday against the New England Patriots and ran 13 times for 36 yards and caught five passes for 48 yards, including the only touchdown for the Vikings, a 25-yard reception.
The Vikings also promoted running back Joe Banyard from the practice squad. McKinnon had two runs for 7 yards against New England.
“I think that these guys have a lot of ability. Jerick McKinnon, I’m excited to see him get out there,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Joe Banyard had a very good preseason. We will keep evaluating that spot each and every time. These guys deserve an opportunity to go out and perform. So many times in the NFL when injuries happen or things happen, guys go out and they perform and they have a chance to make a great career for themselves. It happens every week with somebody because of the number of injuries and things like that.”
McKinnon is hoping his chances will become more prevalent. And he’s hoping he has earned the trust of the coaches to use him in a more regular fashion.
“For the most part, they were calling a lot of passes when I was in there and I had a lot of pass plays or motion-out plays,” he said. “Now, of course, with everything that’s going on, we’ve got to be more downhill and get ready for that stuff that’s in the game plan. I’m not going to get too far into the game planning, but I’m ready for Sunday and what it holds. If I get the opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
McKinnon trying to trust and gain trust
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