McKinnie Persevering, Progressing

Bryant McKinnie was mentioned several times this season as a player who was having a Pro Bowl-type season. While he didn't get voted to the Pro Bowl in February, he shared his experience of how he has progressed as a left tackle and the trying times on this year's offensive line.

Vikings offensive left tackle Bryant McKinnie was looking over his shoulder for all the wrong reasons.

Unlike practically all of his linemates, McKinnie was not exercising his peripheral vision in order to see who his in-game replacement was. Actually, he was consistently looking out of the corner of his eye to see who his blocking mates were for that game, that series, or even that play.

It has been that kind of season for McKinnie, who by all accounts is putting an exclamation point on the best season of his four-year career. In addition to being the Vikings' only offensive lineman to start all 16 games, McKinnie showed week in and week out why the Vikings made him their No. 1 draft pick in 2002.

But because of so many other problems along the line at practically every position but McKinnie's left tackle spot, the offensive line is considered one of the team's greatest weaknesses of 2005. An ironic twist, really, when you consider McKinnie had his best season.

"We did OK," McKinnie said as he offered one of the more generous gifts of the holiday season. "We definitely could get better at some things and we will eventually. We have the whole offseason to look forward to and working together as a unit more. It gave some of the young players the opportunity to go out there and get better, too."

The shuffling in and out of so many linemen created challenges for McKinnie.

"It was different because everybody has a different style of play from Chris Liwienski to Toniu Fonoti to Anthony Herrera — they all had different styles so you had to readjust and pick up on how they play," McKinnie said. "Some have more experience, some have less experience, so at the same time you might be looking to make sure they're doing the right thing. Sometimes you didn't have to because the person that was in there knew what he was doing because he had experience."

Speaking of experience, it apparently is necessary for the Pro Bowl balloting. While many opposing scouts agree with Vikings officials' assessments that McKinnie had a Pro Bowl year, it will take more than one for him to receive recognition in Honolulu.

"We have a guy that is on the verge of being mentioned at least (with Pro Bowlers), and maybe next year is his year," head coach Mike Tice said of McKinnie.

"Coach Tice explained to me a while ago that you have to have a good season the year before you go to the Pro Bowl," McKinnie said. "He said that happened to him with the past five offensive linemen he coached that went to the Pro Bowl. They had a good year, and then the following year they made it."

McKinnie says he has made great strides since his rookie season when he spent half the year away from the team as a hold-out.

"My first year I just went out there and free-styled," McKinnie said. "My second year I learned a little bit, and then toward the end of last year I started picking things up and it carried over to this season."

McKinnie will follow the same type of offseason regiment he subscribed to last year because it led to a solid season. That means his biggest obstacle this winter and spring will be staying out of the refrigerator, and the McDonald's drive-thru.

"My whole thing is making sure I don't get too overweight or too heavy," McKinnie said. "I always try to stay under 350 when I come back in during offseason workouts. It's not too hard. You just have to monitor what you eat and when you eat. You don't want to eat too late at night and you don't want to eat too much fried junk food."

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