Bryant McKinnie talked about his excitement to return to the field as he stood in front of his locker at the Vikings' Winter Park complex this week.
"It has been a long time," McKinnie said. "I have not played a game since the Rose Bowl. I'm pretty anxious to get out there."
McKinnie could not have been any more anxious than the Vikings front office and coaching staff, who had looked forward to having the big left tackle on the roster since taking him with the seventh overall selection in last April's draft.
That, of course, took much longer than expected as McKinnie's agents and the Vikings haggled over a contract. The result was a 98-day holdout by McKinnie, who at times appeared destined to end up re-entering the draft next year or, best case, being dealt by the Vikings.
McKinnie's holdout ended Nov. 1 when he agreed to a five-year contract worth $13.55 million. Although he had stayed in Miami, the Vikings elected against having McKinnie join the team in Tampa, Fla., where they played the Buccaneers two days later.
Instead, he was brought to Minnesota where he immediately began workouts. On Monday, he was joined by head coach Mike Tice and offensive line coach Steve Loney, who put in extra time with McKinnie.
"He looks great," said Tice, who was planning on using McKinnie for 20 to 25 plays against the Giants on Sunday. "He really does … His attitude is excellent, his footwork is phenomenal. He is so quick for a big guy."
McKinnie said he stayed in shape by working out with his former teammates at Miami before the college season began, doing walk-through drills. Once the Hurricanes started playing, McKinnie worked out on his own. "I tried to run and maintain my weight," he said.
Whatever McKinnie did, it provided the desired results. The 6-foot-8 McKinnie reported at 353 pounds, only about 6 or 7 more than the team wants him at.
"He came back in in better shape than I think many would have expected," Loney said. "I got paranoid when I saw the shape (Kansas City's) Ryan Sims came in (after the sixth overall pick ended his holdout) and heard Dick Vermeil's comments. I had these visions of a real nightmare. I think he studied the offense as we had put it in in the minicamp and so there was some recall there. His head's swimming a little bit right now, but I'm excited about how he came in."
Although McKinnie's teammates expressed frustration when asked about his absence during training camp and early in the season, all seemed to be forgiven this week.
"We have a good character group of guys," right tackle Chris Liwienski said. "We are just glad to have him in. He's supposed to be the biggest piece of the puzzle and we have been waiting on him. We are glad to have him either way."
Added Cory Withrow: "You are asking me if there were hard feelings? There were never any with me personally. I don't know about anybody else. He's in now and we are just going to make the best of the situation. I think it's awesome that he's here."
Liwienski also is confident McKinnie will make a quick contribution. "He picked up the offense quick in the summer," Liwienski said. "He really had everything down well, knew the calls and his assignments. It's just a matter of a crash-course refresher and getting a feel for playing football again, getting your body used to doing the things you've got to do to execute a block. I think he will be all right. He's a heck of an athlete."
McKinnie said he did his best to stay familiar with the offense while he waited. "I had a notebook from minicamp that I would refer to from time to time," he said. "I pretty much just watched the plays and watched my position. The couple of games I got to watch, I just tried to mimic and get mental reps, mimic what I would possibly do if I was at left tackle in the game at that time."
McKinnie will have to pretend no more. The Vikings plan on seeing him at the left tackle spot for many seasons to come. His signing also means Tice can proceed with his original plan to move Lewis Kelly to right tackle and Chris Liwienski to left guard. Loney, however, said those moves might not happen right away.
Liwienski said he would like to stay put this season but added, "I will do whatever Coach Tice thinks I need to do to help this team win."
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