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Jerick's journey into the NFL - Week 3: Getting some good advice

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Jerick's journey into the NFL - Week 3: Getting some good advice

Former Georgia Southern star and current Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon breaks a tackle by Arizona Cardinals' Damien Thigpen (42) while returning a kickoff during the second half of an NFL preseason football game on Saturday in Minneapolis.

    Note: “Jerick’s journey into the NFL” will run each Sunday during the preseason in the Statesboro Herald.

    If you’re an NFL rookie playing in a preseason game, it’s all about football after the opening kickoff.
    Rookie Jerick McKinnon has played three preseason games with the Minnesota Vikings since he was drafted in the third out of Georgia Southern, and his focus is all about becoming a better football player.
    But when he’s lined up on the field before the game —he’s played two games at TCF Bank Stadium and one on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead — he has the duration of the Star-Spangled Banner to soak in his still-surreal surroundings.
    “Each game during the national anthem,” he said, “I just soak it in, take it all in.”
    Then, it’s back to business.
    McKinnon has gone through the rigors of training camp and is in the meat of the preseason schedule, and sometimes the body isn’t as excited to be out on the field as the heart, especially after 15 sessions of camp over three weeks.
    Running backs coach Kirby Wilson gave McKinnon the best piece of advice he’s heard since turning pro.
    “He told us, you know, ‘Every day’s not going to be a good day. There are days when your body’s worn down and can’t go, but you’ve got to find a way to start it up. On days like that, you’ve got to stick to your fundamentals, your techniques, and it’ll pull you through,’” Mckinnon said. “I haven’t had a day that’s necessarily been bad, but there’s been days where I've made mistakes. (Wilson) always says, ‘You’ve got to reset, dial back in and put it in the past.’ I just try to take it as it goes. Of course there’s days when your body is tired, especially during camp.”
    McKinnon said his days at Georgia Southern paid dividends. Under former coach Jeff Monken, there was rarely a day off from contact, especially if you’re a ballcarrier.
“As a player always getting tackled to the ground, it’s hard,” McKinnon said. “But I’m thankful for it now. I’m able to sit back and reflect on it and it helped me a lot in making the transition to the next level. I’m thankful for everything they did to help me get to this point. With that type of offense, you’re banging every day inside the box. Of course it makes you tougher. I think it has prepared me in a sense, not necessarily for the type of the physicality this level holds, but it gave me a heads up on it.”
    McKinnon is starting to blend in with a sea of strong running backs on Minnesota’s roster. The starter is without question Adrian Peterson. The rest have shared snaps. No back, including current No. 2 Matt Asiata, had more than 14 or fewer than 12 carries before Saturday’s game at Kansas City.
    But, that’s what the preseason is for -- taking advantages of opportunities when your number is called. In addition to McKinnon’s role in the running game, he has been involved heavily on special teams, including punt and kickoff returns.
    He’s just happy to compete. Some players view preseason games as practice, an annoyance before you get to start playing games. Others view it like any regular-season Sunday.
    “Of course it’s a game,” McKinnon said. “If you’re a competitor, you’re going to want to win any time you go out there. Our focus is to get better, and we want to get out there and be crisp in what we do to give us a chance to win the game.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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