The Minnesota Vikings will be unwilling spectators today when the divisional round of the playoffs begin, but for one Viking it will be getting him one week closer to coming back with something to prove in 2016.
As a rookie, running back Jerick McKinnon was thrust into the starting lineup when the team was without Adrian Peterson. He was asked to be the primary threat in the running back position. When Peterson returned, McKinnon’s role went back to that of a role player.
McKinnon was able to step back and use the 2015 season as a learning experience and he sees his lack of consistent game action as a teachable moment in his spot as a role player.
Asked to assess the positives of his second season, McKinnon said he learned to be ready on a moment’s notice to get the call to come in relief of Peterson.
“Just the growth I had, being a young guy and being able to learn from the older guys and being ready when my number was called,” McKinnon said. “I want to continue with my craft and continue to get better and see how things improve next year.”
McKinnon is excited about the prospects for the Vikings in the future. The sting of their heartbreaking loss to Seattle last weekend is still an open wound – one that the Vikings aren’t soon going to forget.
Mike Zimmer’s second season served as a launching point for the Vikings organization and, while they were disappointed with the finish, McKinnon sees it as a building block in the bigger plan of building a team capable of winning a Super Bowl.
“We know what it feels like to get to this point and what it feels like to lose at this point,” McKinnon said. “I’m pretty sure next year’s team will have that on their heads and a chip on their shoulder to get past this far next year.”
One of the intriguing aspects for McKinnon moving forward is that he saw his role in the offense increase as the year went on, especially toward the end of the season when wins mattered the most.
In his first 13 games, McKinnon had nine games with three or fewer carries, caught 12 passes for 56 yards and had no touchdowns. In the final three games – all wins the Vikings needed to lock down the NFC North title – McKinnon ran 18 times for 114 yards, caught nine passes for 117 yards and scored three touchdowns.
He sees his increase in usage as something he has earned over the course of two seasons and hopes to use that as a springboard heading into 2016.
“There is a lot to be proud about – a lot of good things we did this year as a team,” McKinnon said. “The coaches trust in me, putting me in comfortable positions to make plays for the team. When you get the opportunities, you’ve to make the most out of it. I feel I did so, making the most out of those opportunities – not just for myself but for my team.”
There is already speculation that McKinnon will be in line to see his role in the offense increase next year, but he isn’t worrying about that now. At this point, he’s planning to keep his momentum moving in the right direction and make the most of his opportunities, whether they increase next season or remain the same.
“It’s too soon to say,” McKinnon said. “That’s way down the road. Right now, it’s more about evaluating myself, things I could have done better with this year and things I can take into the offseason.”