Without Minnesota Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson playing in the preseason opener, opportunity knocked for rookie Jerick McKinnon.
The quick running back from Georgia Southern got plenty of chances and generally performed up to par in his NFL debut.
McKinnon carried 12 times, mostly behind the second-team offensive line, for 45 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per carry with a long run of 12 yards.
“It was a lot of fun just being out here. Everybody was talking about the game’s much faster, but I thought I picked up on it pretty well,” he said. “I was able to stay patient. The offensive line had some great blocks. I was able to find a couple of holes, making a couple of yards, so it was pretty good.”
“Pretty good” seemed a fairly accurate assessment. For a first performance, not bad, but there were a few lost opportunities, too. It seemed he was too quick to bounce a play outside instead of taking the yardage available by getting up-field on his first available opening.
“You’ve got to set it up more. You can pretty much hit it and get it if you see it, but at this level, if there’s a hole, there’s probably a backside linebacker coming to fill it so you’ve got to set it up probably a couple more steps to get them to flow and then you’ve got to cut it up,” McKinnon said.
“I felt good about how the performance went, but sometimes I didn’t really see what I wanted to see and I kind of hesitated and put a juke on it and bounced to the outside. But overall I think the first game was pretty good.”
At Georgia Southern, McKinnon was a jack of many more trades. He caught 10 passes, returned four kickoffs and threw 81 passes. Still, his bread and butter there was rushing the ball, finishing his career with 619 carries for 3,899 yards and 42 touchdowns.
“Jerick has got great acceleration, he’s got great hands, he’s tough, he’s thick, he’s powerful and it showed,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
After being drafted by the Vikings in the third round in May, McKinnon admitted that pass protection was a liability for him. It was one of the few things he wasn’t asked to do much for the Eagles.
“I only got like two pass protections (Friday night). I picked it up. One time he kind of get underneath me a little bit and I had to reset,” he said. “The other one went pretty good. It’s still a learning process day by day. I’m continuing to get better at it.”
At the NFL Scouting Combine, he put up 225 pounds in the bench press 32 times to lead all running backs and posted a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, second among running backs and 10th among all players at the Combine. His 40½-inch vertical jump was fifth-best among the 300-plus participants.
Some of those impressive athletic traits came into play in his NFL debut as he gets accustomed to a more complex offense under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, although he admitted Friday’s game plan was a limited sampling.
“I would say I’m comfortable. If the coaches ask me to do anything, I’m comfortable doing it,” he said. “I’m 100 percent comfortable in my skills. I’m confident in my teammates and my teammates are confident in me.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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