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Jerick McKinnon training with Adrian Peterson, preparing for the most important year of his career

Jan 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (21) carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Before moving on to his offseason routine, Jerick McKinnon had to spend some time reflecting on his 2016 season – not so much to focus on what went wrong, but on what he could learn.

Injuries and struggles on the offensive line made McKinnon’s first full year as a feature back a rough ride. He averaged just 3.4 Yards Per Carry, a significant drop off from 4.9 YPC over his first two seasons.

According to Sporting Charts, only four running backs with more than 100 carries had a higher percentage of runs stuffed in the backfield. And when he ran the ball up the middle, the Vikings’ runner nicknamed “Jet” was stalled for 2.6 YPC.

McKinnon probably watched Oakland and Dallas running backs glide through gigantic holes like a kid stuck inside with the flu while his friends played outside. But blaming teammates – publicly or privately – usually doesn’t do much good. So instead he looked at the in-season tweaks that led to an improvement over the last six games in which he averaged a solid 4.1 YPC.

“My first year I was more of a patient guy, setting my runs up, but with the way everybody was switching in and out [on the offensive line], it made me get used to making that one cut sometimes,” McKinnon said over the phone on Friday. “Toward the end of the season I was more of a one-cut guy. At the beginning, I wasn’t doing anything different than I did the first two seasons. So after turning the page, working out this offseason, my mindset has been to come back strong, be at the best that I can be and produce at the level I know I can produce.”

With six months between season’s end and training camp’s open, offseason plans are an art form for NFL players and McKinnon has spent more than two months of his with the Kendrick Lamar of offseason workouts: Adrian Peterson.

McKinnon and Peterson have formed a bond over the past three seasons – which doesn’t always happen between aging superstar and up-and-comer, just ask Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. But A.P. was a McKinnon fan from Day 1.

“He’s pretty impressive and there’s not too many guys who impress me like that, especially rookies coming in,” Peterson told The Star Tribune back in 2014. “He’s been able to do some real good things in the offense, picking it up well and just his running style.”

In his rookie year, McKinnon impressively filled in for Peterson while the superstar was suspended, gaining 538 yards on 113 carries, then acted as a change-of-pace back in 2015.

“He took me in from the start, coming into the league, he taught me a lot,” McKinnon said. “I think my game is a little different from some of the other backs around the league and the things that I do. It’s always good to have somebody like that on your side supporting you, pushing you and just making me better overall as a player. I can’t thank him enough.”

As only he can, McKinnon succinctly summarized how Peterson’s absence will feel for everyone involved with the Vikings and their fans.

“It’s going to be weird,” he said, laughing.

Now the soon-to-be 25-year-old playmaker has a new bandmate in the backfield. The Vikings signed former Raiders running back Latavius Murray earlier this offseason. Last year, the Raiders used Murray as part of a trio that gained 1,922 yards, sixth most in the NFL.

McKinnon understands it’s a one-two punch league. Only one running back carried the ball 300 times last season (Ezekiel Elliott) as opposed to 2006 when there were 10 backs with 300-plus rushes, so it’s likely that the new co-workers will both see plenty of playing time.

“I texted him after he signed the new contract to congratulate him, he seems like a cool guy so I just told him that, on my end, I just want to come in and compete so it will be good working with him and learning from him,” McKinnon said. “He’s been named to one Pro Bowl, so he’s had success in the league. I’m looking forward to getting in there, working with him, competing against him, learning about how he thinks about certain things, getting his point of view on certain situations and runs and plays, stuff like that.”

With his contract coming up after this season, McKinnon needs to make it clear that the backfield combination should be a 50-50 split or better in his direction. Last season, it took longer than it should have for interim (and now full-time) offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to use McKinnon as part of the passing game. In the final six weeks, he caught 31 of his total 43 receptions. And on third downs, he was merely a check down for Sam Bradford, gaining just 3.8 Yards Per Reception.

This time around, Shurmur gets to implement a playbook that’s entirely his. And the Vikings’ offensive line should be improved in 2017 by adding tackles Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff, who are better run than pass blockers.

Circumstances should be better. The rest is up to McKinnon to prove the 2014 and 2015 versions were closer to reality than 2016.

  • Mike Kano

    Matthew: At some point, you need to stop referring to Peterson as a superstar. Someone who averages 1.9 yards per carry and has more fumbles than touchdowns is no longer a superstar. He could be most charitably described as a “former superstar”, although he is most commonly referred to by people I know as a “washed up child abuser”.

    • Jack Johnson

      The all time leading fumbler for the Vikings is Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton.

      • Mike Kano

        It is unclear as to what your comment has to do with what I said. Do you have a learning disability, or are you just easily triggered?

        When was the last time Tarkenton played in an NFL game? Tarkenton is no longer a superstar either. He is a retired player recognized for what he did when he was still an elite NFL player.

        If you like, I can also explain to you where the sun goes when it disappears in the evening.

        • Jack Johnson

          Hey nitwit, you claim I am easily triggered or provoked and here you are putting your pea sized brain on display again. I cant bring up a valid stat concerning a Hall of Fame QB’s career as a fumbler? And what’s that you say, Fran Tarkenton is retired from the NFL? Wow now that’s a shocker. Referring to an NFL player as a Hall of Famer should be a strong clue that the player has been retired for at least 5 years.
          I was pointing out that Peterson’s so called fumbling is over blown by nit wits like you. And the same old worn out slander about him being a child abuser–please c’mon all the nit wit sports fanatics say that.

          You got schooled with the Tark fumbling stat and now you’re angry.

          • Mike Kano

            How delusional are you? Someone with your substandard intelligence and knowledge couldn’t school the average tween. You are incapable of instructing someone like myself. You would be better served by acknowledging that your IQ places you on the extreme left of the Stanford-Binet bell curve.

            I simply quoted Peterson’s stats from last season to demonstrate why he no longer merited being referred to as a “superstar”. You are so incompetent that you failed to recognize what those stats were, and went off on some tangent about a player who is retired.

            After you demonstrated your lack of knowledge, I felt obligated to point out the most obvious things to you. After all, you had already shown me that you were unaware of even the most basic facts.

            “slander about him being a child abuser”

            I am a bit angry….about my tax dollars being used to feed useless people like yourself. Just think of how much better the world would be if, instead of free food, my tax dollars had purchased free condoms for your parents.

            Of course, you are the one who sounds really angry, to the point where you object to a factual reference about Peterson’s criminal past. Apparently, the fact that your hero is only man enough to beat up 4 year old children is embarrassing to you. That means there might be some small chance of you eventually reaching the point where you would be worthy of being called a man. The odds, however, are stacked against it.

          • Jack Johnson

            Pea brain , my first response was a one sentence statement and it was a”factual” statement. And Peterson doesn’t have “stats” from last year. He carried the ball 37 times and played less than 3 games. His typical season carries is around 320 or 20 carries per game. Your facts are wrong again!
            And you have no knowledge about Peterson’s child abuse case other than the fact he was never convicted of a crime nor even charged with a crime. So once again Pea brain you’re allowing “gossip” to lead you around by your nose.

            And you also assume I’m a black man which allows you to assume I am living off your tax dollars. In truth what company would hire a moron like you and besides the country is overflowing with idiots like you and you know the law of supply and demand, right?

          • Scott Myhre

            C’mon guys it’s just football. Lighten up! You sound like a couple of children ~ calling each other names. You’re both sayin “I’m really smart and I’m right ~ naner-naner-naner.”
            Actually, I think you’re both wrong ~ now you can join forces and come after me….Be careful though ~ or I’ll pick up my toys and go home! So there…..

          • Mike Kano

            Sorry, Peterson has stats. You even quoted some of them, in an attempt to prove that he doesn’t have stats. How short was your school bus anyway?

            Peterson pled “No Contest” to a reduced charge of a misdemeanor as a first time offender. To enter a plea, he had to be charged with a crime. Are you also confused as to where the sun goes when it sets?

            I made no assertion as to your race. You are the one drawing a link between economic incompetence and race. Based upon your responses here, it is incomprehensible that you are not being fed using my tax dollars.

            You seem to have a difficult time with facts and logic. That explains why I am wealthy, and why you are just po’ folk.

          • Jack Johnson

            You assumed I was African American, that was obvious from your racist statements. And your assumption that Black Folk are inferior intellectually to white people is also false, as false as your lie that you supply excess tax dollars to support the system. We don’t often read that from sports fanatics–I mean that’s a totally new angle and thought process.

            My statement that Peterson had no stats wasn’t to be taken literally, “How short was your school bus anyway? (chortle, chortle) but 37 carries doesn’t add up to two games worth of carries for Peterson so how can any reasonable person draw a conclusion from that? I seem to recall games where he would bust for 40, 50 , 80 yards after being stopped on previous attempts.

            You continue to assert that my response stand out as “incomprehensible” and yet my first statement that so caught your attention was a single sentence of undisputed fact. Can’t imagine why it was so incomprehensible( “How short was your school bus anyway”?) —“The all time fumble leader for the Vikings is Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton”….see that isn’t so incomprehensible is it?

            PS- the name Jack Johnson is not my real name–now keep that to yourself genius and don’t tell the all smart guys making that big money because they think I’m black. These are the short bus guys, you know them right? And by all means let me know if you can’t comprehend all this.

          • Mike Kano

            I didn’t assume your were black. I simply realized that you are intellectually inferior. That is a realization reinforced by everything that you write. You are the only person taking part in this conversation who believes an inferior intellect is somehow related to race.

            One of the many problems with people like you is that they try to make everything about issues like race, simply because they lack the intellect and knowledge to add anything pertinent to a conversation.

            You are so poorly educated that you do not even realize what constitutes a statistically valid sample size. That is not shocking. Statistics were probably not covered by the GED exam which you took. (Did you pass that exam? If you passed, did you have to cheat?)

            Meanwhile, your hero Peterson twists in the wind as we approach the NFL draft. I bet that is a big shock to you. The reality is that Peterson has reached the point where he no longer belongs on an NFL roster. Some GM might sign him to a non-guaranteed, incentive laden contract after the draft. After all, training camps need bodies.

            If Peterson somehow makes an 90 man roster, look for a repeat of the Antoine Winfield debacle when he signed with Seattle after the Vikings booted him out. The only thing sadder than an NFL player who doesn’t know when to retire is a foolish fan trying to live vicariously through that player. Condolences.

          • Jack Johnson

            Of course you assumed I was black and of course you would deny it. And of course you would project your racism on to me.

            And I am sure you’re an expert when it comes to a valid sample size. You can see it and measure it in your hand after every masturbation session.

            I’m no sports fan, I simply despise idiot’s like you.

          • Mike Kano

            If I were a racist, why would I deny it? Have you seen any indication at all that I am shy about saying what I believe? If I were a racist, not only I tell you that I was a racist, I would tell you all the reasons why racism is the intellectually superior position.

            You are simply fixated on the idea, which is not surprising. Your tiny brain can likely process only one idea at a time. Before the advent of the modern social welfare state, people like you starved to death and died. That was better than someone like you polluting the gene pool.

            My “sample” only goes into an orifice of shapely young women. This society given wealthy people like me a virtually unlimited dating pool. Isn’t it great to live in a meritocracy which rewards intelligence and knowledge? OK, clearly it is not so great for someone like you.

            So, you aren’t a sports fan, but you are here on a sports oriented website discussing a story about sports. If you are going to lie so egregiously, you should at least try to do a better job of it.

            You have embarrassed yourself enough at this point. You should quit while you are behind, but I doubt you have the common sense to do so.

          • Jack Johnson

            Kano- you’re a racist nit wit. Of course you have lots of women, money and still find time to follow and comment about the NFL.

      • EnricoPallazzo

        That’s probably true of any team. The quarterbacks are carrying the ball like a loaf of bread.

  • Mark L

    Hopefully he’s not mentally training with AP for the most important year of his career

  • cka2nd

    Nice to see AD continuing to mentor McKinnon.

    • Gordon Guffey

      I believe McKinnon will be a big part of this years offense ~ Hopefully AP isn’t showing him how to pick up blitzes ~ LOL ~ All jokes aside it is nice to see AP still training with him ~ I believe Murray will have to bring his A game because McKinnon sure will ~ The fact that his contract is up after this year will be a huge driving force ~ With the improvements to the OL and I look for more talent to be added in the draft he could have a breakout season ~ That being said the sad fact that McKinnon hasn’t been able to stay healthy I look for the Vikings to add a RB in the draft as well ~

  • Gordon Guffey

    I know a lot of fans want the Vikings to draft Mixon or some other RB with the 48th pick but I dont see it ~ They signed Murray for a reason and it wasn’t just in case the RB they wanted wasn’t there ~ It freed up the draft to help improve the team overall ~ So they could draft the best player on their board be it a need or just someone with their eyes on the future ~ I could see them resigning Asiata or see what they have in CJ Ham or one of the other young guys who they feel might be the next Thielen ~
    It was pointed out above the it wasn’t until week 10 that Mckinnon started working his way into Shurmur offense ~ It also happen to be the time when Easton started playing Center and Fusco was benched ~ IMHO it was clear Fusco was not the same player before the Peck injury ~ He just got blew up to often ~ It really became clear when Berger was play OG how bad Fusco’s play had been ~ And lets not forget that it wasn’t until Norv left and Scott was shut down from calling play and game planning meeting that Tony Sparano was finally allow to start coaching the OL the way he and Shurmur wanted to ~ Even then it was a shaved down version of what will be installed this offseason ~ But progress was shown even in the OL and as bad as it had been ~
    I dont know what happen to Norv but what he brought with him wasn’t what little of his offense I had seen in the past years ~ !!! I dont believe this but it was almost like he was hoping ((( and coaching ))) Zimmer would be fired so he could take over ~ Like I said I dont believe that but it sure seemed like it ~

    • Rourke O’Briain

      Hey Gordon I remember you saying AP wasn’t a team guy! what do you think about him helping out Mckinon? Or coming back after 3 months with a 4-6 month injury? It looks dumb for him now because he played terrible and re-injured himself and has costed him millions of dollars but you can’t say the guy didn’t give this franchise everything he had!

      • Mike Kano

        Peterson was never a “team guy”. Everything that Peterson did was all about Peterson.

        Peterson is training with McKinnon….in the gym where Peterson is co-owner. Do you think McKinnon gets to work out there for free? Did Peterson’s working with McKinnon remain private, or did it get leaked to the media to generate free publicity for Peterson’s gym? It is shocking how naive some people are.

        Peterson came back to play in an attempt to increase his free agency market value. After all, he was averaging 1.6 yards per carry before the Colts game, and it was obvious that 1.6 yards per carry was not going to generate any interest in the free agency market. As it turns out, 1.9 yards per carry doesn’t generate any interest either.

        Peterson did not reinjure himself during the game. After he was pulled for poor performance, he stood behind Zimmer for the second quarter and most of the third quarter, expecting to get put back in the game. Injured players go sit on the bench or pull off their pads, they do not stand behind the head coach. He eventually sat on the bench, because even Peterson realized he wasn’t going back in.

        The debacle against the Colts is when the Vikings decided they were done with Peterson. The team sat Peterson for the last games. They didn’t want him to get really injured, because they would have had to pay him an injury settlement based upon that $18 million option year.

        • Rourke O’Briain

          I am not sure if he trains for free i’d assume not. I also have no idea who the media interviewed to gain this information or who “leaked” the info. I believe he came back early to get them in the playoffs you believe it was to increase his FA market, I guess only AP knows why he came back. I don’t think he was pulled from the game like you said I just think being down so much we had to throw more and Mckinnon and Asiata’s game are better for that. I even believe he started the 3rd quarter drive so that theory doesn’t really make that much sense. Where is the proof they sat him? If your theory is correct wouldn’t he have wanted to play the last two games to improve his stats for FA and pull a Weddle? Also your point that the Vikes gave up on him after the Colts game is wrong, they tried to get him back for next season lol.

      • Gordon Guffey

        I think he is helping out a friend from his old team ~ Nothing else cause AP is not a team player and never has been IMHO ~ It’s always been about his rushing numbersmoney and

        “”” he has never been anything more than a overpaid 2 down RB “”” over the last 6 seasons ~ And early on he had just enough good to great games to keep the Vikings hooked on the thought of him finally putting together a great all around season ~ Every year we hard the same thing as TC started about how he had worked to improve his pass blocking or route running ~ But it never lead t anything in tough games as he just disappeared ~ Against good blitzing defense he was useless and he couldn’t be counted on to get open and pick up a 1st down as a receiver out of the backfield ~ Thats the reason why Asiata and yes even Mckinnon were the ones picking up blitzes on pass plays or catching the ball out of the backfield ~

        As for AP giving the team everything he has he could have took a pay cut to stay with the team seeing how the Vikings paid him 2 out of the last 3 season for what ~ Not even 200 yards and only 1 full game ((( <<< thats all I remember off the top of my head ))) besides his 1400 yards he had in 2015 ~ Thats not worth anywhere close to the 30+ million the Vikings paid him for those 3 season ~

        • Rourke O’Briain

          You don’t believe he had a great all around season in the past 6 years??? He won MVP and that season performance is regarded as one of the best seasons an NFL player has ever had so your point doesn’t really make much sense. I agree he is not a natural receiving/blocking back and the work that he put in never transitioned to the field, as a third down back he was atrocious and even running out of shotgun he is brutal. So ya hes a pretty one dimensional running back in the sense he has to run out of the I. I don’t think that makes him a bad teammate though. Berger, Boone, Fusco got no push this year on short yardage plays but I wouldn’t call them bad teammates.

          I get your last point I agree AP did owe Minnesota to take a pay cut to stay. He was also willing to negotiate but the numbers didn’t match up but by looking at Murray’s contract I put a lot of that blame on AP (assuming the contract offered to him was similar).

          I have a theory that AP wasn’t willing to accept the offer which would have been a 2/3 pay cut (which is very significant almost unheard of) because he thinks he has a better chance at winning a championship somewhere else and in that case I understand the decision. I even think he will sign somewhere for less then Murray signed here to win a championship which will tell us it wasn’t about the money but that is just me guessing we will see after the draft!

          • Gordon Guffey

            Again you are talking about one great rushing season ~ His game had so many holes in it there is no way he is in the class of a Marshall Faulk or The Bus or T. Davis just to name a few who could help their team win in so many way ~ Yes AP was a great 2 down RB who had one of the best rushing seasons ever ~ But most of those years game over the last 7 games ~ The first 9 were just good game ~ But he still was below average at picking up blitzes or running good routes ~

  • Andre Esters

    As a long-time Vikings fan, it can be difficult to endure the mishaps and fumbling of various operations. Something I’ve always appreciated about certain types of people are the ones who realize prominent issues and keep it personal. Not for the sake of stewing and filling with resentment, but just being a quality person and doing your best not to play the infamous blame-game. In the case of Vikings football, the opportunities are numerous…

    Good looking out “Jet”, your efforts and dedication to becoming another Adam Thielen soldier of diligence should definitely solidify your place on the roster and eventually garner a solid contract/financials.

    Peterson giving praise from 2014 is a nice touch as well, not sure if that matters much though.


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