Vikings still defining a role for wild card rookie Jerick McKinnon
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MANKATO, Minn. - Jerick McKinnon knows his place on the Vikings depth chart. He claims he's not looking at it right now, but he concedes there's work to be done to be considered No. 2 behind Adrian Peterson. For now, it seems, the backup designation belongs to Matt Asiata.
When the Vikings took McKinnon at the end of the third round this year, they knew it would take time to mold the do-everything player from Georgia Southern into an NFL running back. He was a triple-option quarterback in his junior year, then a tailback as a senior.
As players put on the pads for the first time Sunday, the Vikings still are feeling out what role the diminutive rookie will fill.
McKinnon is short in stature but he's thick. He's listed at 5-foot-9, 209 pounds. In his profile on the Vikings website, his skills are questioned in some areas he may eventually find a role with the team. The draft profile claims he's "not a creative, make-you-miss runner. Very limited career receiving production (10 career catches). Not stout in pass protection."
But the profile also said he has the "the athletic ability to warrant a chance as a change-of-pace back in the pros. Could even be tried as a return man and cornerback, where he began his college career. Would benefit from focusing on one position and will require some time to develop."
When asked what he hopes to see from McKinnon during training camp, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he understands it is "going to be a process because he's never played running back."
So where might McKinnon fit? That's a question McKinnon and the Vikings began answering in earnest during rookie minicamp. Only now, there may be more urgency, given that the team's first preseason game is 12 days away.
He could be a third-down back, a safety valve for check-downs in the passing game, or a special teamer. Or some combination of the three.
"I really don't feel like they've placed an exact role on me. I've kind of got a feeling for it but that's up to the coaches to decide," McKinnon said Saturday, one day before the Vikings will put on the pads for the first time. "As a rookie coming in, you know, it's going to be rare for a rookie to start unless he's taken in the early first round. So I'm looking at special teams as a gateway for me to get on the field."
In practice, McKinnon has worked on coverage for special teams and returns. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer shouted praise as he called out McKinnon by name during a coverage drill Saturday. McKinnon said his experience with special teams coverage is limited to a few games during one season in college. But that could be a way to earn snaps on Sundays this year, as could returning kicks or punts.
"We've got a great returner in Cordarrelle [Patterson], who does a great job - best in the league in my opinion. We've got Marcus Sherels, phenomenal as well. So I'm learning from those guys," McKinnon said.
Is there something specifically he's trying to impress upon the coaching staff during camp?
"I'd probably say exhibit my pass protection because it's in question because it's not on film. I think I've done a great job now, just picking up my assignments, pre-snap reading, picking up my guy," McKinnon said. "As the pads get on [Sunday] it'll be a better idea for the coaches to see, with [practice] being more physical."