Bryant McKinnie knew this day was coming. Having served his four-game suspension for violating the NFL conduct policy, McKinnie was back at Winter Park preparing for his first practice in a month. He was also going to face the media for the first time and have to face some tough questions.
When a player is under suspension, he can't work out or practice with his team and effectively banned from the team facility. He has spent the last month in Florida and has been working out on his own – doing the best he can maintain game shape. The bigger job, according to McKinnie, is getting back into the mental aspect of the game, as well as catching up on what plays have been added to the offense since the start of the season that he hasn't taken any reps blocking for.
"Mentally, I'm going to use this week of practice to prepare myself to get back," McKinnie said. "But physically, I feel that this last month I have done a good job keeping myself in shape. I've been running and lifting."
It hasn't been a vacation for McKinnie, who admitted that, physically, he is probably in better shape now than he was at the end of the preseason when his suspension took effect. The reason is that he hasn't been sitting around doing nothing. He has been pushing himself with a strict workout regimen that simulates the kind of work he would do during a standard training camp.
"On Mondays I would try to simulate a game – put myself through 15-play drives and things like that," McKinnie said. "On Tuesdays, I would lift in the morning and at night I work my hands doing skill-position stuff. I would do that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then on Fridays, I would do (cardiovascular work) and lift. It would be two-a-day workouts during the week and once on Mondays."
It didn't take long for the questioning to turn to the obvious – the incident in Miami that led to McKinnie being charged with felony assault and facing some severe penalties from the legal system if convicted. McKinnie had not spoken to the local media since his suspension was announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and McKinnie admitted that he was a surprised by receiving essentially what was the maximum sentence for such a violation of the conduct policy.
"I had an idea (a suspension was coming), but wasn't sure how many (games) until they gave it to me," McKinnie said. "I just had to take it and make sure I stayed in shape so I could come right back and play. I was kind of surprised (by getting four games), but there was nothing I could do about it. I put myself in that position."
It was clear from his words Thursday that McKinnie feels remorse for what he got himself involved with. He has had run-ins with the law in the past and would receive words of advice and counsel from several sources. Earlier in his life, he chose not to heed those words, but, as a veteran being asked to be a team leader, he said his attitude toward well-intentioned advice has changed.
"There are a lot of people that give advice, it's just a matter of whether you want to take it," McKinnie said. "I'm at the point that I'm starting to take some of the advice that has been given to me. I'm trying to become more of a businessman because I'm getting older, so that's kind of my style (now)."
While McKinnie's problem with the NFL over the fight in Miami is over, he was candid about his place on the at-risk list of NFL players. When asked if he believes his recent suspension was his last strike with Goodell, McKinnie said "probably." He still faces a potential court case following the season in which he will face felony assault charges that carry mandatory jail time if a conviction is reached, but McKinnie said he is positive about getting a favorable outcome in court.
Head coach Brad Childress said McKinnie did some things that would remain unnamed to gain the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
"He knew that he needed to regain everybody's confidence, whether it's the fans' confidence, whether it's the teammates', whether it's the coaching staff's, whether it's the league's. And he knows the mandate from our standpoint. Obviously, I can't pile on; I don't pile on. But four games is a significant penalty. For a guy that was having a very good training camp, that was hard for him. Obviously, your life doesn't flash in front of your face, but your career certainly does. And I think it's probably made a better man out of him and I think a little bit more thoughtful."
McKinnie said he is happy to be back with his teammates, but maintains that the matter was blown out of proportion due to his high profile as a professional athlete. He added that it doesn't exonerate him from what occurred, but feels that he has learned from the incident, and that the types of situations he puts himself in need to change.
"At the end of the day, the police were involved," McKinnie said. "It really doesn't matter if was (blown out of proportion) or not. I put myself out there and things happened. I have to (make sure I) don't put myself in that position again."
McKinnie said he's not going to completely change his lifestyle and become a prisoner in his own home, but said he has to remain cognizant that, as a high-profile person, there will be more attention brought to anything he does or those he comes in contact with.
"It wouldn't have happened at all," McKinnie said. "When you have a (celebrity status) you become a target. You have to very careful of everything you do and say."
In the end, McKinnie fielded dozens of questions that were primarily dealing with the month he has been away from the team, not the job at hand with digging the Vikings out of an early 1-3 hole during his absence. He said he rejoins his team committed to doing everything he can to help them pull out of their early-season slump and get them to the playoffs. He will need to mend some fences with his teammates and said he is ready to rectify the loss of faith some of them may have had.
"I felt like I let them (my teammates and coaches) down to a certain point," McKinnie said. "But I'm back now and just looking to move forward and help the team."
McKinnie prepped for return during suspension
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