Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Vikings camp: Few mourn McKinnie's exit
By Kevin Seifert
MANKATO, Minn. -- I came up about, oh, 85 players short Wednesday of talking to everyone on the Minnesota Vikings roster. So I can't say for sure that no one was upset by the decision to release longtime left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who reported to training camp weighing nearly 400 pounds.
Here's what I can tell you, however: Some players would have been upset if the Vikings hadn't released McKinnie.
Viking cornerback Antoine Winfield on Bryant McKinnie: "All we had to do is come in and come in shape. Coaches really had no choice but to do what they did."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield, for one, said he thought coach Leslie Frazier would give McKinnie a chance to get his weight and conditioning under control. But ultimately, Winfield agreed, "no one is untouchable."
Winfield added: "We all understood, everyone as professionals, that all we had to do is come in and come in shape. Coaches really had no choice but to do what they did."
The Vikings have a predominantly veteran roster, most of whom went to great lengths to stay in shape during the lockout. Winfield looked as fit and trim as ever. Left guard Steve Hutchinson said he is "in the best shape I've been in the last seven or eight years" after participating in Twin Cities workouts with six teammates. Defensive end Jared Allen, meanwhile, laughed when asked about his approach to working out this offseason.
"My philosophy is this is my job," Allen said. "This is my livelihood. You've got to assume the lockout is going to be done at some point, so it's your job to stay in shape. Everybody can find a gym."
No one blasted McKinnie nor expressed disappointment that he had left them searching for a left tackle in the first week of August. In my opinion, after watching McKinnie's immature behavior and dispassionate play for years, few of them counted him as part of the trusted core of veterans.
"You can't be mad at him," Winfield said. "I'm sure he's disappointed in himself. That's kind of embarrassing. But I think he's going to have to deal with it."
In the offseason, Winfield said, "guys do different things. Some guys relax, some guys travel. Some guys like to party. But you have to be disciplined. All you have to do is go work out, stay in some kind of shape, and perform."
McKinnie wasn't a disciplined teammate or player. That's why I don't think anyone who works as hard as Winfield, Allen or Hutchinson was really ruing his departure.
"Realistically," Hutchinson said, "if you came and showed up at camp with the hope that every player was in tip-top shape, I don't think anybody can whole-heartedly say, 'Yeah, everyone is going to be in the best shape of their life.' I'll admit, as you get older, you're not 23 years old anymore. It's hard to kind of get up maybe sometimes on your own and go run in the heat of the day, and push yourself to do the things that you would do when you're in an offseason conditioning program with all of the guys."
But that's just the point, isn't it? Hutchinson got a group together that included center John Sullivan, linebacker Heath Farwell and linebacker Chad Greenway, among others, to push each other on days when there were no conditioning coaches on top of them and no football coaches getting reports on their progress.
If you are a player who has paid the proverbial price, how much do you care about what happens to someone who didn't? And how would you have felt if that person got a free pass from training camp to do the work he should have done before it started?
You might be upset, and it's a double standard that coach Leslie Frazier avoided by quickly dispatching McKinnie. Frazier wouldn't discuss his reasoning behind the decision while speaking with reporters other than to say: "We made a decision for our organization for our organization that we thought was the best thing as we're trying to bring a world championship to Minnesota."
The Vikings could have left McKinnie on the non-football injury list for a while, hoping he would lose enough weight to regain his effectiveness by the start of the season. Frazier had a choice between extending McKinnie's career-long coddling session or standing up for the veterans who don't need or want to work in that kind of environment.
He chose the latter, and it needs no further explanation.
"Guys need to be on their jobs," Winfield said. "They're not untouchable."