Bryant McKinnie, the man they call "Mount" and "Eclipse," wants to make this much clear: He has no regrets about 2002 and he has no doubt that his best is yet to come — maybe a few years down the road.
The Vikings' mammoth left tackle made these points as he sat on a couch in Gage Center before the Vikings concluded the Mankato portion of their training camp. McKinnie's confidence and honesty gave him the appearance of a player who had far more than eight games of regular-season NFL experience, but that is not the case.
A 98-day holdout last year, which included all of training camp, delayed McKinnie's arrival until November. Did the move set him back? Probably, at least for the short term. But not enough that the first-round pick from 2002 is sorry he did it.
"I had to hold my ground," said McKinnie, the seventh overall selection out of Miami. "That was obvious to everyone. Like, ‘Why are they doing this? For what?' What am I going to be doing, sitting here mad that I didn't (hold my ground) or be like (Denver's) Clinton Portis and try to (get a new contract) after one season because you want more money. Handle that first and then come here and take care of business."
McKinnie and his agents took care of business at the bargaining table last November, getting a five-year, $13.3 million deal. He played his first game against the New York Giants on Nov. 10. A week later he was starting against Green Bay. It was a spot McKinnie held down for the final seven games of the season, during which the Vikings went 4-3.
The Vikings' strong finish, McKinnie's imposing 6-foot-8, 346-pound frame and a somewhat new-look offensive line are among the reasons hopes are high this season. While McKinnie is optimistic about the team, the 23-year-old remains realistic about his own expectations.
"I don't think I'm going to be in my prime until I'm about 26, just because I'm learning," he said. "There is a whole bunch of little stuff you learn, and then you have to start doing it in practice to the point where it becomes natural. Then you find something else you need to work on and you do that.
"Once you correct this and you find something else, you correct that, you just keep correcting all the little things … by the time I'm 26 I should have everything down pat. I'm not saying I'm not going to play good this year, but even my coaches in high school and college used to always tell me that. I still could be doing a good job now, but it should be even better by then."
Coach Mike Tice, who coached the offensive line before taking over the head job, is impressed with McKinnie but knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
"Pass protection-wise he is awesome," Tice said. "Run blocking-wise and awareness-wise as a pro he has a ways to go. But certainly pass protection-wise he is as good as we have had in a long time."
McKinnie's learning process has seen his footwork improve to where he has moved from a two-point stance to a three-point stance this year. His next assignment will be to improve his hands.
"I need to keep them inside instead of being on the outside of the defender so they can get their hand on my chest," he said. "Once I get that down, it will be something as far as technique when I'm on a run play or something like that. There is always going to be something to keep working on."
That is one reason McKinnie admits the importance of being at training camp this time around.
"It is important," he said. "You need repetition at your position, like getting out of your stance, passing those D-line stunts and communication with the guy next to you. Things like that. Learning how to work with the guy next to you, that's very important to become successful. You get familiar with the plays where you are not even thinking as much. You are just going or reacting because you already know what's going to happen.
"Last year, it was like everything was crammed in. I had to learn all the plays, get readjusted to the snap count, try to read the defensive stance. It was a whole lot going on in my head for it to be my first season. I had a lot going on mentally in my head. This time around it should be a lot smoother."
And if McKinnie's right, three years down the road it might be positively frightening for opponents.
Mount Wants To Reach Peak
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