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NFL: No stepping out of line for Viking

By Chip Scoggins Star Tribune (Minneapolis) MINNEAPOLIS -- Bryant McKinnie is hard to miss on the football field. Inconspicuous doesn't generally apply when you're 6-foot-8, weigh 335 pounds and wear a size 18 shoe. But sometimes, when members of...

By Chip Scoggins

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Bryant McKinnie is hard to miss on the football field. Inconspicuous doesn't generally apply when you're 6-foot-8, weigh 335 pounds and wear a size 18 shoe.

But sometimes, when members of the Minnesota Vikings offense are watching film, it's impossible for them to ignore the damage inflicted by their gigantic left tackle, Big Mac.

"It's rare when you see an offensive lineman just use one arm and literally rag-doll people out of the screen with one throw," right guard Anthony Herrera said.

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"When he gets his hands on somebody, he can reject him," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "It's like he's throwing somebody out of the bar. Gone. That guy flies off the film, the guy's on his back. We'd like to see that every single play."

That, of course, has always been the knock on McKinnie, the No. 7 pick in the 2002 NFL draft. He's long possessed the talent to become an elite left tackle, but inconsistency and off-the-field issues have prevented him from realizing his potential.

That might be changing.

At age 30 and in his eighth season, McKinnie said he's playing arguably the best football of his career. He's in better shape after incorporating different offseason training methods, including yoga, racquetball and tennis. Yes, hard to picture but true.

He said he's also in a good place mentally after enduring some embarrassing incidents in recent years, including the infamous Love Boat scandal and his arrest after a fight outside a Miami nightclub that resulted in a four-game suspension at the start of last season.

McKinnie, who received a seven-year, $48.5 million contract extension in 2006, said he made some changes in his life and that he wants to be recognized for his performance on the field. Specifically, he wants to make it to the Pro Bowl and thinks he's playing at a level worthy of that distinction this season.

"Individually it's something you want to accomplish," he said. "That's a lot of people's goal in the NFL. I feel like I've been playing at a level where I probably could have made it a few times. But I feel like some of my off-the-field things (have prevented it). Like the year (2005) I felt I played real good but the Love Boat thing came. Last year I played good but I was suspended for four games. It was like the years that I was playing good there was always something off the field that I feel like was kind of keeping me from getting there.

"I've been through so much and it couldn't break me. All it did was make me stronger. I've got a lot of that stuff out of my system and just been able to move on. I'm at a happier point in my life right now."

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Mother knows best

Even McKinnie's toughest critic -- his mother, Michele Green -- likes what she sees. Green, who lives in New Jersey, has missed only a handful of her son's games since he started college, and little escapes her watchful eyes.

"He'll say, 'How do you think I did?'" Green said. "I'm like, 'You did this, but how come you weren't here and this and that?' I am on it. When I see that he's playing good, I'll take my eyes and watch the game. Once I see he's in rhythm, I'm like, 'He's got it. I don't have to worry about him.'"

Green said she notices a big difference in her son this season, starting with his conditioning. McKinnie devoted more time to cardio work this offseason. He hiked in Runyon Canyon Park in Los Angeles, took yoga lessons, played tennis and dabbled in boxing.

"He has never done anything like that before," Green said.

Even so, McKinnie's ability to maintain that level of conditioning is a constant battle, Bevell said.

"I think he can probably still continue to work at that," he said. "I think it's something that he's conscious of all day, every day. He can go home on a bye week and come back in bad shape just in a couple of days."

McKinnie moves well for someone his size and he's obviously powerful.

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"He's probably the strongest player on the team," Herrera said.

Said offensive line coach Pat Morris: "He's got natural strength, the big man strength."

His physical skills are undeniable, but Bevell said it's all about consistency with McKinnie.

"We have high expectations for him, and I think he can be a premier left tackle," Bevell said. "To do that, you have to have that mindset that you're going to do it play in and play out. Every day, every game. You can't take a snap off. I think that's something that we continually talk to him about. I know his aspiration is to be a Pro Bowl player. To do that, it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. You have to do it every single play."

Beneath the radar

McKinnie made 89 consecutive starts, including playoff games, when the NFL handed him a four-game suspension at the start of last season.

"It was hard because he had to sit there and watch the games," Green said. "He had never missed a game, ever. To sit there and watch that, I think that was an eye opener. It had to be hard. I just told him, 'Onward and upward. Lesson learned and keep on moving.'"

The ironic thing about McKinnie's involvement in the off-the-field incidents is that Vikings officials say he is also one of the team's most active players in the community. They say McKinnie privately and freely donates time and money to numerous charities in the Twin Cities, New Jersey and Miami. His next event is Tuesday when he is scheduled to join Vikings president Mark Wilf at a community stop in Owatonna.

"That was never something I felt I needed to run to the media with," McKinnie said of his community involvement.

McKinnie paid for 20 haircuts for kids at the North Community YMCA before the start of school this year, and he regularly sends clothes to big players at his former junior college in Pennsylvania.

"It's really been fun to watch Bryant develop," said Brad Madson, the Vikings executive director of community relations. "He's great with kids. He has definitely become one of the most active guys. He's done a lot of things around here quietly. Bryant has become a real positive member of our community outreach."

He's also one of the more interesting characters in the locker room. He has a burgeoning career as a music executive with his own label -- "Swagga Entertainment" -- and he uses twitter (bigmacvikings) to peel back the curtain on his private life.

"Thank goodness for twitter," he said. "I love it. You get feedback from the fans. A lot of fans will hit me back and say, 'Thank you for allowing me to get to know you as a person.' They only get to see you in football with a helmet on. Now they get a chance to know you as a person."

McKinnie still hopes to make the biggest mark with his play on the field and perhaps earn that first Pro Bowl selection.

"I feel like this is finally the opportunity where I have a chance," he said. "I feel like I'm playing a lot better than a lot of these tackles in the NFC."

Lions (1-7) at Vikings (7-1)

When: Noon today.

TV/radio: KBRR (GF Channel 10); The Fan (1440 AM).

Line: Vikings by 16½.

Synopsis: Minnesota QB Brett Favre is nursing a sore groin, but don't be surprised if he'll be on the sidelines resting for much of the second half after working vs. the 31st-ranked pass defense. The Lions have lost 11 straight games at Minnesota. More of the same.

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