Getting To Know: T Bryant McKinnie

Bryant McKinnie knows he lost valuable practice time while holding out last summer, but he sounds intent on making up for that with a football-focused offseason.

With the regular season complete, rookie offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie might be the lone Vikings player singing this song:

"I need more practice," McKinnie said. "I haven't had enough practice."

Say what?

Six weeks of training camp followed by 16 weeks of games — an entire season sandwiched around endless two-a-days, an eternity of film sessions, chalk talks, walk-throughs, team meetings, position meetings and weight-lifting workouts. By now isn't enough enough? Isn't now the time when players have their travel agents on speed dial?

Everyone except McKinnie.

Let's remember, even though McKinnie was drafted by the Vikings in the first round (seventh overall) last April, he became the last first-rounder in the NFL to sign with his team. Minnesota had already played eight regular-season games by the time McKinnie and the Vikings finally came to terms on Nov. 2.

Yet a week later McKinnie was on the field rotating with Everett Lindsay at left tackle against the New York Giants. Two weeks later, McKinnie was in the starting lineup. He hasn't left that spot since.

But now, as the Vikings lay to rest their second consecutive losing season, McKinnie feels like he's just getting started. The rust, he says, is just starting to disappear.

"At (the University of) Miami and really everywhere, you have two-a-days, so you have a lot of practices before you get into a game," McKinnie told VU. "Me? I had basically two practices — one practice of contact — before I played my first game. I didn't have time to work on anything. I was rusty. I am trying to get it together now, but the season is over.

"I didn't have the training camp or preseason or all that."

Welcome to Bryant McKinnie's world. At 6-foot-8, 344 pounds, he is a walking giant, even in the Vikings' locker room, where size XXXL is the rule, not the exception. Always appearing calm and collected, McKinnie at face value maintains a quiet demeanor. But engage in a conversation with the Vikings' cornerstone and you won't find yourself ever wondering how McKinnie really feels.

McKinnie is a product of the Miami Hurricanes in every way, shape and form. He's gifted with a gargantuan body, and thanks to his time as a Hurricane has tweaked and sculpted his stature into a prototype offensive lineman. With talent, ability and success comes confidence. McKinnie doesn't lack that, either.

"During my senior year, because the guys on my team were so fast, I was finding myself having to slow down during games," McKinnie said. "I had to slow down when I was pass setting because the guy I was going against in games wasn't as fast as the guys I went against in practice."

It wasn't always that way.

Football is still a relatively new concept to McKinnie. He grew up playing on the hardcourts, not the football fields. McKinnie, because he was always several inches taller than the rest of his class, specialized in basketball.

It wasn't until he was a junior at Woodbury (N.J.) High that he started playing football.

"I just played everything for fun," said McKinnie, 23. "I never thought about long-term. Even when I started playing football I wasn't thinking about long-term. It really didn't come to my attention that I could play in the NFL until my junior college coach started talking about it."

McKinnie played football at Lackawana Junior College in Scranton, Pa. He wasn't there long before he was convinced to move from defensive end to offensive tackle. The coaching staff told McKinnie it would benefit him in the long run, but even then he didn't seriously consider a future in the NFL.

In his sophomore season at Lackawana in 1998, McKinnie was named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American. Quickly, his college football star began to rise.

McKinnie transferred to Miami for the 1999 season, and the Hurricanes red-shirted him. In 2000, McKinnie became an instant star. The Hurricanes allowed just eight sacks all season — McKinnie did not allow a single sack.

"That no-sack thing, that was everybody else, not me," McKinnie said. "I never said anything about that. Everyone else just brought it up. I was trying to forget about it. Then I had to keep hearing about the no-sack thing. Then the defensive ends always had to say something."

That wasn't the only McKinnie chatter circulating around Miami. Rumors regarding a possible early departure by McKinnie to leave college as a junior and declare for the NFL draft were traveling around campus.

"That was everyone else, too," McKinnie said. "They began to say I was leaving early. That was everyone else. Not me."

McKinnie remained at Miami for his senior year and continued to dominate. He finished his college career without ever giving up a sack.

"The whole summer before my senior year I had to hear about that," McKinnie said. "To me, everyone was waiting to see me give up my first sack in college. They wanted to see how I'd react, like all the sudden I'd start playing horrible because I gave up a sack.

"That wasn't my main focus, never giving up a sack. I was just worried about us winning."

After his senior season, McKinnie was a consensus All-America and Outland Trophy winner. CNN/SI named him college player of the year. He finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting.

"I could coach 50 years and never coach a kid like that again," Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "I've never had anybody even close to him. He's only (23), but he's hardly played any football. By the time he gets to about 26, he'll be so good it's ridiculous."

McKinnie has only played eight NFL games. Because of the lengthy contractual chess match between him and the Vikings, McKinnie has only begun to learn.

The holdout was costly and admittedly retarded his professional growth. But even so, the Vikings have seen signs of what could be at left tackle.

"He's our best pass protector, without a doubt," said Vikings head coach Mike Tice, who last April declared McKinnie an instant starter. "We're doing a lot of things with him now in the two-point stance because he's missed so much fundamental work and technique work. But, without a doubt, he's the best pass protector we have."

McKinnie agrees with Tice's technique assessment.

"Speed? I was used to that every day in Miami," McKinnie said. "But technique, now that's different. People here have much better technique because they've been in the league longer and have more experience."

It's more than seven months away, but McKinnie is looking forward to training camp. It will be his second year in the NFL but his first training camp.

"I've never had a training camp," he said. "There are still a lot of things I need to work on."

Favorite actress: Vivica Fox
Favorite movie: The Ring
Favorite vehicle: Mercedes Benz
Current vehicle: Cadillac Escalade
Favorite music: R&B, rap, hip-hop
If I weren't playing football: I'd be a pimp.
Toughest player ever faced: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila

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