McKinnon a bright spot in dreary loss

Jerick McKinnon got his first start and showed some of his explosiveness, even if he didn’t produce gaudy numbers.

There was a quiet changing of the guard Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings at the running back position, as coaches gave rookie Jerick McKinnon his first career start and made the transition from Matt Asiata as the team’s primary running back.

While the difference didn’t show up on the scoreboard – McKinnon had 11 carries for just 40 yards – he was pleased with his first career start and sees room for improvement moving forward.

“I think I did pretty good – I’ve got high expectations for myself,” McKinnon said. “There were a couple things I wanted to do better on, some of the plays, but overall I think I did a good job, handled it really well and had a lot of good, efficient runs. All I can do is just build on that and get better as a player.”

Although the Vikings locker room was clearly frustrated with the lack of firepower shown in the 17-3 loss to the Lions Sunday, McKinnon said the team remains focused on the job at hand and nobody is hanging their heads.

“I don’t think anybody on the offense is down,” McKinnon said. “Everybody’s in a positive mood, positive mindset. Things aren’t going our way right now, as we wanted to, on offense, but I think we’ll get it turned around. We’ve got a lot of playmakers, and all we can do is fight until the playmakers make their plays.”

The Vikings offense spent the majority of Sunday’s game under siege by the Lions defense and weren’t able to sustain drives or get themselves into an offensive rhythm. It was a source of frustration throughout the offense, but something the Vikings will be looking to correct as they prepare for another strong defense in the Buffalo Bills.

“Sometimes we come out and we’ve got a great start, kind of get behind the 8-ball, and it takes a toll on us,” McKinnon said. “But as a pro athlete you have to find a way to just keep the momentum going and make the plays and put some points on the board for the defense.”

McKinnon got the full starter treatment Sunday. Prior to the Lions game, he had been the change-of-pace back behind Asiata. On Sunday, McKinnon was on the field for 48 snaps, as opposed to just 15 for Asiata. In addition to the 40 yards rushing, he was the leading receiver with six catches (on six targets) for 42 yards.

He said the biggest challenge in being the featured back was working on blitz pickup – something that is new to him. It wasn’t easy, but he’s confident he has the hang of it and can continue to improve in that regard as he gets more field time moving forward.

“It’s real tough,” McKinnon said. “It’s just a fight, really. It’s a one-on-one matchup, and coaches trust you to win our matchups, so all you’ve got to do is just stand in there, stay strong and just make the plays. Not play when you’ve got the ball in your hands, but it’s still a play. For the quarterback, give him time to throw the ball.”

There wasn’t much head coach Mike Zimmer liked about Sunday’s performance, but McKinnon’s contribution was one of them.

Zimmer hasn’t made any guarantees of playing time or time share percentage for his top two running backs, but he said Monday that McKinnon got the starting nod because of his explosiveness on the field and he didn’t do anything Sunday to change that opinion.

“I thought Jerick did a good job this week, so we will just continue to see where it’s at,” Zimmer said.

Although the numbers from Sunday’s game didn’t show it, the Vikings are buying into the offensive scheme of Norv Turner and believe that it will pay dividends down the road – even if Sunday wasn’t a good example of what they can accomplish.

McKinnon praised Turner’s approach to the game and remains confident that Sunday’s loss was just a misstep and not a sign of things to come. They will stay true to the offensive philosophy and buying into what Turner is selling.

“It’s just the leadership within the offense,” McKinnon said. “Coach Turner has been doing this for a long time, so all of us, we just trust in him and what he’s going to do. He has a plan for us, so all we can do is just get better day in and day out at practice and just keep improving.”

There wasn’t much positive that came out of Sunday’s game, but, for McKinnon, it may well be the first step in his NFL maturation as a starter and the promise of bigger and better things to come.”

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