After surgery, McKinnon focused on strength

Jerick McKinnon is still recovering from back surgery, but he wants to regain his strength before the Vikings return for their 2015 offseason program.

Jerick McKinnon said his “back is smiling,” which has him smiling about his future once again.

After suffering a lower back injury that limited his final weeks on the field and eventually led him being placed on injured reserve on Dec. 6, McKinnon had surgery to repair his back.

But earlier this week, McKinnon said he will be ready to practice when the Vikings start their offseason conditioning program in April.

“I’m feeling much better now,” he said. “My back is smiling, walking normal so it’s pretty good.”

McKinnon had a solid first season with the Minnesota Vikings. He was expected to be a complementary back to Adrian Peterson when the Vikings drafted him in the third round last May, but things changed in a hurry when Peterson was lost for the season due to his legal troubles and ensuing suspension.

The former option quarterback from Georgia Southern was quickly asked to increase his role on the offense when the Vikings lost Peterson. At first, the Vikings turned to Matt Asiata as their starter after the loss of Peterson, but when McKinnon’s explosiveness became apparent he won the starting job.

After spending four games as the backup to Asiata, McKinnon earned his first start on Oct. 12 and started the next six games before his back injury became too much to handle.

“I would say I did a good job when I was in the game,” he said. “I think the coaches trust me more now. I’m just looking forward to getting back and seeing what happens.”

For now, the 5-foot-9, 208-pounder is taking his rehab from surgery slowly but he would like to compete for a starting job in 2015. Still, there are so many unknowns in the Minnesota backfield between now and that time. Will Peterson be back? Will the Vikings select Peterson’s replacement early in the 2015 draft?

McKinnon can relate to the uncertainty. He quickly learned in his rookie season that the best-laid plans can be thrown for a loop quickly in the NFL.

“You never know what’s going to happen. You’ve got to be ready at all times. That hit me quick, of course,” he said, “but there’s stuff to learn every day in this league. I’ll take it for what it is and keep learning.

“I can’t really say what’s going to happen. Nobody knows. It’s the NFL; things change. All I can do is work hard and come to OTAs, come back out here and compete and show the coaches I can still do what I can.”

McKinnon ended up with the best average-per-carry among the Vikings’ stable of running backs, carrying the ball 113 times for 538 yards (a 4.8-yard average), but with his rookie season was filled with learning and then injury. The focus now in the weeks and months ahead is to have his back recover and then regain his strength.

“I’m just trying to get some of my weight back. I lost a couple of pounds,” he said. “That’s my main focus is to put that weight back on and muscle. I’ve got a lot to work on, I think. I definitely learned a lot in the first year. I think it’ll help me in the offseason and have a chance to build on more tools.”

One advantage he will have this year is not having to go through the predraft training process, where players often focus on speed and strength events at the NFL Scouting Combine. This year, he will have some down time before getting immersed in his first NFL offseason program.

“I think it’ll be good. Coming out of college and going through the whole combine process, it’s kind of like right after the season you’ve got to get into it,” he said. “Of course with me being out with surgery, I’ve had some time with my body to recover. I’m looking forward to working out.”

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