Friday's opener may have helped refine what Vikings ask of RB McKinnon
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS - With Adrian Peterson not taking a single snap, Jerick McKinnon was the most heavily featured back in Friday's first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.
How he'll be used in the regular season remains a partial mystery, but one guess is that offensive coordinator Norv Turner will find a way to use McKinnon in the passing game, as a change-of-pace back, or possibly as a pass protector, despite his short stature and non-existent experience in that area.
On Friday, McKinnon ran the ball 12 times for 45 yards (3.8 yards per carry), caught two passes, and was involved on special teams in the return game. That might not be his role once the regular season begins. In fact, he might not return punts again.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was pleased with McKinnon's night, except for one small facet.
"Yeah, except catching punts. He probably won't catch punts next week," Zimmer said. "Other than that he did a good job. Jerick has got great accelerators, he's tough, he's thick, he's powerful. I think it showed."
How did McKinnon evaluate his special teams play?
"I'd say it was all right. I didn't do anything spectacular," McKinnon said. "I could have fair-caught one punt instead of landing a hit, but there was no cost on it. I would have liked to do more on kickoff return... But overall I felt like it was pretty good."
He said he felt his first game went well "for the first time."
"I was able to show some patience, a couple good cuts. From a competitor's standpoint I wish it could have gone better," McKinnon said. He added that he wanted to show off his quickness. "Coming up from the college level all you hear about is the speed of the game [in the NFL], just showing that you can adapt to that right off the bat."
The biggest question mark if McKinnon does figure to be a traditional third-down back is his pass protection. At 5-foot-9, 209 pounds, McKinnon is short, but he's packed with muscle. Teammates and coaches have praised his ability to pick up the skill, which isn't something he had to do until the Senior Bowl last year.
"I'm starting to get real comfortable with [pass protection]. [Running backs Coach Kirby Wilson] does a great job highlighting different things and I feel like I'm getting better at it every day. It's something I really look forward to getting better at," McKinnon said.
He pointed to one specific instance in pass protection and a couple running plays as areas he'd like to clean up from his first game in the NFL.
"One time on pass [protection], dude got on me pretty good and I had to reset on him. Just working on getting my hands, shooting first before the defender does," McKinnon said. "There was a couple times I made a cut to [try to] get out, when I could have just planted and got as many yards north as I could."
How does McKinnon respond when critics say he'll be too small or too inexperienced to be an effective NFL pass protector?
"At this level, of course the guys are bigger. But if you've got a guy who's strong enough, who's willing to do it, it'll work out, he'll pick it up. If you're not willing to then the guys are going to run over you every time. But when you've got somebody who is willing to, who's wanted to, putting in the extra effort and time to do it, he's going to make that block," McKinnon said.