The last two years haven’t been easy for San Francisco 49ers’ running back Jerick McKinnon. After signing a four-year, $30 million contract in 2018, Jet hasn’t played a down for the Niners. He tore his ACL before Week 1 and missed the entire 2018 season.
Going into 2019, McKinnon was expected to be a big part of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but a setback in his recovery forced him to miss a second straight year. The 28-year-old is healthy heading into the 2020 season and gives the 49ers a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
McKinnon caught up with the media at training camp and opened up about his recovery, why he agreed to restructure his contract to stay with San Francisco, and more:
On how much fun it is to be back on the field and how he runs a choice route?
Got back before and did the walkthroughs you know, everything has just been so good and so well, just being out there with the teammates, the coaches, it’s been a long time, a long time coming. Just to be back out there in the field warming up and doing all the small things, little things. I definitely feel blessed and I’m just happy to be back in the situation that I am today.
Choice route. There’s a lot of different ways you can run it. Like Bobby tells us, ‘just win the route,’ beat the man in front of you. So that’s what I try to do every time a number is called, every time I’m running out and one on ones you’re not just trying to win and beat the man in front of me.
On why he wanted to be a part of the 49ers, and why he restructured his contract?
Before I signed, you know, like I said, when I first came here, you know, there’s something special about this organization and what they had going on in momentum. They had come up that last season, that’s why I came. It’s like, a lot of young guys, hungry guys, you know, guys that work hard. Playing for Coach Shanahan, and all those things. The reasons that I came here it wasn’t really about the money. So, you know, when things came up about reconstruction, the contract, you know, it wasn’t really that big of a deal for me. You know, it was just about, you know, proving why I came here and, you know, to try and get back on the field and, you know, showcase my talents.
On how he is feeling physically going into the season:
Health is good. Every day is a new day. For me it’s about stacking the days one after another, learn as much as I can, knocking off that rush for not playing two years. And, just putting myself in those game type situations and practice. We don’t have a preseason and stuff like that. So, you know, every day I have to put myself in those extreme situations and, you know, environments in my head and make it feel like a game type situation, because, you know, the first chance that I’m gonna get coming back is going to be. Game one’s gonna be a real game. It’s not gonna be, you know, a scrimmage or practice or something like that. So I have to start now
On how he handled the long layoff from a mental aspect:
The harsh reality of it is when something like that happens, you do have to go through those mental challenges and emotional challenges, things of that nature. For me, it was just about just leaning on my faith, my loved ones to push me through the time, my teammates was always reaching out to me, making sure I was in a good headspace coaches reaching out to me. I guess the thing that kept me going the most, (was) my teammates and coaches, reaching out, still encouraging me and I’m still new to the team and haven’t played any game so you know that was just a booster for me throughout the process is making go down much harder and then no one to come back better than before.
On Kyle Shanahan saying he goes a little too hard in practice:
I really am big on my work ethic and how I work. I’m a guy who likes to lead by example. Going through this whole process, you know, like I was saying just, take everything in doses and I think that’s the best way to look at it. You can’t do too much too soon. You can’t do too much at the wrong time. You got to know how to just time everything out but you know, at the same time, it is hard to cut back a little bit but you know, I’ve been going through it for two years. I know my body, I know how this camp schedule works and I know the toll that it takes on your body. So you know, just try and make sure it times out really well. But yes, it’s kind of hard for me to tone back a little bit. I work like I’m broke. So you know, it’s hard to stop working.
On if he didn’t want teammates and coaches to ask about his injuries after a while, similar to Trent Taylor?
Nah, a lot of guys they asked me how’s the feeling and stuff like that? I’m comfortable to the point now where I could talk about it. It is one of those things that you kind of want to put behind you. It was a dark time and I found myself in a dark place at moments. I’m past that point. I’m here to play football. I’m here to get better each and every day. And I’m here to compete you know, and that’s the main focus. Compete, win the day,stack the days and keep moving.
On what he has seen from JaMycal Hasty:
He’s a real good player. shifty. Real fluent in-and-out of his cuts. He’s a smaller guy like myself, he can catch out the backfield. He’s picking up real well on the playbook and stuff like that in the running back meetings. you know, We’re expecting a lot out of him and the other rookies during this camp. So far has been really impressive in the one on ones. He had a spin move the other day that was pretty impressive. He’s really fluid on his feet. I think a lot of guys got excited about that, but he’s definitely gonna be one of the guys who is going to be exciting throughout camp.
On what he brings to the offense?
So many guys are versatile in our offense. I do think I can open up a different element. My toolset and what I bring to the game, you know, Kyle does a great job at putting players in the best situation, you know he’s the matchup guru, matching guys up and making plays, using their strengths. Like I said before, I’m excited to be back, be healthy. I’m here to compete bring everything that I can.
On how much the defensive line has improved from when first joined the 49ers:
I thought they were good two years ago, but just watching over the past years, they learn to get better and better and better every year. We lost DeFo, but we added kinlaw and he’s probably one of the biggest humans I’ve ever seen. His big upper body, big lower body, big quads, everything about him is just big. But the d-line is the best in the league.
On what he sees from Jimmy Garoppolo?
The confidence you know, there’s no question that everybody can see that. He’s just bringing the juice. That’s the quarterback, call the play with confidence. He sees the film. He knows what Kyle wants and he knows how to execute. I’m excited to be back and play with him for sure. That was one of the main reasons I came here in 2018. I’m excited to be back out there with him as well.
What are your expectations for McKinnon going into the 2020 season?