The training-camp holdout by Vikings first-round pick Bryant McKinnie might not be that big of deal if he played a position such as running back, where it might take less work for him to get his timing down.
But for McKinnie, an offensive lineman, getting his timing and rhythm down is crucial — and so is the time he missed in camp.
"You can take a running back and catch them up quick because a lot of that is just their God-given ability," new Vikings offensive line coach Steve Loney said. "God-given ability takes effect with an offensive lineman, but there is a lot of technique that has to be added to that God-given ability as well."
Don't believe Loney? Just ask All-Pro center Matt Birk about the importance of a lineman, especially a rookie, holding out.
"It's huge," he said. "[Offensive line] is probably the most important position that needs to be here. All linemen — I don't care if you are a first-round pick, free agent, whatever — from the time you come into camp to the time you end camp, during that span the learning curve is so steep, especially for him. If we are going to count on him, he has got to be here."
Loney wants to see McKinnie in Mankato, Minn., but he said even before camp started that the absence of the 6-foot-8, 344-pounder is not causing him to worry.
"It is every bit as important for him to be here as an individual as it is for the team," Loney said. "He needs as many snaps as he can get. He has only played five years of football. One of high school, two at a junior college and two at Miami. It's not like he has a wealth of experience. He needs as much repetition as he can get. So, it is in his best interest to get to camp.
"Having said that, though, if he isn't here I'm not going to lose one bit of sleep over it. Only because I think it's important that guys understand you coach who is in the room and you play with the guys that are here. If he's not here, that gets to be an administrative situation. Would I like to have him here? Yeah. But as I said, I think it's every bit as important for his sake as much as the team's."
McKinnie's holdout might not only hurt him on the field. The offensive line is often a cohesive group on and off the field and camp is a time that players bond. Perhaps that is why Birk says: "To tell you the truth, and this isn't a slight on him, we are in the middle of Mankato working our asses off and the furthest thing from my mind is Bryant McKinnie. We are just trying to do with what we have got."
When the Vikings took McKinnie with the seventh overall pick, the plan was to give him every opportunity to win the starting spot at left tackle. However, that has become much less likely. Asked how much time would be too much for McKinnie to miss, Birk pointed to next week.
"We come back from our day off and we are going to be game-planning for our preseason game (against Cleveland on Aug. 10)," Birk said. "Even though it's preseason, you want to go in there with some confidence and with some time under your belt — especially if you are (left guard) Corbin Lacina or some of the tight ends who have to work right next to him. You want to have some timing down. You want to get something out of it."
McKinnie Holdout Draws Team Reaction
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