While the grind of NFL training camp can be grueling to younger players, well-seasoned veterans like Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon know just how important it is to get their bodies ready for the rigors of the regular season.
“It’s all about being smart,” McKinnon told reporters after the team’s Tuesday morning practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. “Obviously, it’s training camp. We’re going to come out [and] work hard every day. [We’re] going to run hard every day — but at the same time, [when you’re] away from being on the field and away from being in meetings, you’ve got to take care of your body. You got to make sure at the beginning you start at 100%.“
While he’s found a home in Kansas City — this offseason, he re-signed for his third year with the team — the 31-year-old running back has been through a lot during his nine NFL seasons. His early career was plagued by injuries — most notably by consecutive ACL and LCL tears in his right knee that forced him to miss both 2018 and 2019.
But when it started to look like McKinnon’s injuries might end his career, he pushed himself even harder — with the support of loved ones who gave him the motivation to keep his NFL dream alive.
“You’ve seen guys come back better than before — [and] you’ve seen some guys come back not better than before,” observed McKinnon. “That’s just a testament to will — [and] believing in God, family, friends, close ones, my teammates and everyone else [who was] just contributing power to me.”
That’s part of why McKinnon has endeared himself to Kansas City’s coaching staff — specifically head coach Andy Reid — during these past two seasons.
“He’s smart,” Reid said of McKinnon on Tuesday. “He was a legitimate quarterback in college on a good team. Then he got in the league and he had some productive years. Injuries got him there for a bit — and we were lucky enough to get him here.
“He’s just solid. He’s somebody that you trust in everything he does [in] all phases of the game — including special teams. He can do everything.
“When you’re 9-10 years into that running back position — that has a lifespan of three years, if you’re lucky — that’s a tribute to him and the way he takes care of himself.”
The Chiefs’ superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes couldn’t agree more.
“[Jerick McKinnon] does it the right way,” he declared. “I think that’s why — even though he’s had injuries — he trains, he’s in the meeting room [and] he’s learning, so that when he gets back from injury, he’s ready to go.
“He’s always doing stuff the right way. I think it helps teach everybody — not just the running back room. I mean, it teaches me. It’s like, ‘Hey, I might not be getting reps but I’m on the side talking through what’s going on. I’m making sure that everybody in my room knows exactly what I’m thinking so I can learn from them.’ That’s the type of player we need on this team.”
Last season, all of McKinnon’s hard work certainly paid off on the field. He was an integral piece in Kansas City’s championship run, finishing as one of the league’s most prolific pass-catching running backs. He collected 56 receptions for 512 yards while finding the end zone a total of 10 times — including a season-ending stretch where he scored in six straight games.
McKinnon attributes this success to understanding the entire offense.
“Having my quarterback background in college, then playing [in] multiple systems and being able to see the overall view of the offense — not just from the running back position — definitely benefits me [when it comes to] being on the same page with Patrick,” he explained. “I think last year, we definitely showed being on the same page, hooking up multiple times for touchdowns here and there… Now it’s about taking what I learned and trying to trickle it down to the younger guys — and help them understand the overall view, so that no matter who’s in there, it’s still the same result.”
While injuries have been a big part of McKinnon’s career arc, he enters this season’s training camp with a clean bill of health. He’s looking forward to seeing the physicality elevate — so the Chiefs can pick up right where they left off after their latest Super Bowl victory.
“The pads coming on means we’ll get touched up a little bit more,” he predicted. “The guys up front will get some push. It’s going to be some real competition in the trenches — and then we’ll get to see what all the guys can do with the ball in their hands. [We’ll] get to see what the linebackers do — [and see] the safeties coming down [so we can] get to see what they do.
“It’s going to be fun. We’re getting to real football now.”