Baltimore Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie was held out of the team's first training camp practice of the year on Thursday, after he showed up 10 pounds overweight, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
McKinnie has a history of weight and conditioning issues. Last year, McKinnie didn't pass the team's mandatory conditioning test until August, after he missed the first part of training camp with a back injury he ascribed to a slip-and-fall. His first attempt at the conditioning test ended with a hamstring pull. Earlier in the year, he arrived to minicamp well over his target weight of 345 pounds.
In 2011, McKinnie showed up to the training camp of his then-team, the Minnesota Vikings, weighing nearly 400 pounds. The transgression resulted in his release, and his former teammates lamented not his departure, but his lack of discipline while he was with the Vikings.
He landed with the Ravens soon thereafter.
Despite a new two-year deal with the Ravens this offseason—a direct result of his stellar performance in the team's playoff run that led to a Super Bowl victory—that included workout bonuses to help motivate McKinnie to stay in shape (he attended all voluntary workouts), this latest instance of arriving to work overweight doesn't put the left tackle in a positive light. It's as though nothing from the past two years has truly sunk in for him.
Even though McKinnie was dressed and ready to practice on Friday, being held out on Thursday for the same issue he's had the previous two summers certainly doesn't help McKinnie seem reliable.
The left tackle position could be described many ways, but one of the adjectives that doubtlessly captures a crucial quality possessed by the best ones in the NFL is "reliable."
Quarterbacks have to trust their left tackles to protect their blind side, keep unseen pass-rushers from disturbing the play or making a sack as well as help out with opening lanes and occupying defensive linemen in the run game. There's a reason starting left tackles get paid more than the rest of their offensive line counterparts—they protect the team's most prized commodity, and often the highest-paid player on the roster: the quarterback.
This struggle with reliability resulted in McKinnie playing just 59 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in the 2012 regular season (in games that mattered, that is; he played 73 snaps in the Ravens' Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, in which they rested most of their starters after the first series).
Though McKinnie did take over for Michael Oher as the starting left tackle throughout the playoffs, earning him a likely starting nod this year, it's disconcerting that McKinnie cannot even be relied upon to report to camp in football shape, especially for the third straight year.
Granted, McKinnie is an upgrade over Oher at left tackle, and second-year player Kelechi Osemele still needs more time before he can be quarterback Joe Flacco's most important line of defense against pressure, but the weight issues belie a greater problem with focus and discipline. More concerning is that McKinnie did participate in all voluntary workouts, in order to receive his bonuses, but that commitment to training didn't seem to carry over through the summer, when there was no financial incentive to do so.
McKinnie's former Vikings teammates didn't find him dedicated to football, but instead of putting his head down and trying to prove them wrong, he has apparently made few efforts to change his ways. Through a bit of luck on his part, he joined the Ravens—they moved Marshal Yanda to guard on McKinnie's arrival—and out of necessity, they re-signed him this offseason.
He may feel safe, given the team's situation and his new contract, but he should be just as concerned with making his teammates feel safe—so much so that he should be in the proper condition to protect them. He should also be concerned with making the Ravens coaches and front office feel safe in their decision to bring him back.
Showing up to camp overweight, yet again, makes it seem clear what McKinnie's priorities are and shows that football may not be as high on the list as it should be.
As a left tackle, McKinnie is not a small man; however, there is a point in which he can be too big. It affects his speed as well as his health, and coach John Harbaugh did the right thing by holding him out of practice.
However, it never should have happened in the first place. The Ravens are relying on McKinnie—one of their few free-agent veterans to return this year—to be a leader and example for their younger offensive linemen like Osemele and newly minted starting center Gino Gradkowski. They also need him to be an effective pass-protector to Flacco, who is more important to his team than ever before.
Showing up unprepared for training camp doesn't send a good message. For a position as important as left tackle, McKinnie again being held out of practice because of his weight is a sign of wavering reliability and questionable self-discipline. The Ravens—or any team—should not have to have these types of concerns about their starting left tackle.
McKinnie has a lot of work to do, not only to get in shape, but to prove he's worthy of both his new contract and the important task of keeping Flacco upright. Reliability is a hallmark of his position, but so far, all McKinnie has shown is that he's reliably unprepared for training camp, no matter the price he's paid for it in the past.
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