Published August 06, 2006 01:52 am

This may be hard to believe but, at 6-foot-8, 335 pounds, Bryant McKinnie may be the unnoticed man on the left side of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line this season.

[size=18px]McKinnie looks forward to working on revamped line[/size]
Four-year veteran has started 55 consecutive games at tackle

By Chris Jagerson
The Free Press


MANKATO —
This may be hard to believe but, at 6-foot-8, 335 pounds, Bryant McKinnie may be the unnoticed man on the left side of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line this season.

With center Matt Birk coming to camp healthy and the signing of guard Steve Hutchinson, McKinnie has lost some of the attention he garnered in the past. But that’s something McKinnie is fine with.

“Who wouldn’t want to have two Pro Bowlers on your right hand side?” McKinnie said. “We’re in a better position this year than last year — with Birk coming back and signing Hutchinson, it’s definitely a good upgrade to our offensive line.”

While McKinnie is looking forward to working with his new lineman, some of his teammates, whom he protects, are looking forward to another season with him.

“He has a chance to become a household name at left tackle,” quarterback Brad Johnson said. “He’s a huge man.

“I have to find lanes to throw around him, but he does hold down his fort over there. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish this year.”

Running back and friend Mewelde Moore added: “He hasn’t made it to the Pro Bowl yet, but he should’ve a long time ago. He has so many talents and he’s just so consistently good and great at his job. I mean he’s human like everyone else, but every once in a while he’ll do something that’s unbelievable.”

The Pro Bowl has been something that’s eluded McKinnie his first four seasons. But with Seattle’s Walter Jones making the last five Pro Bowls and St. Louis’ Orlando Pace making the last seven at left tackle, McKinnie knows there may be only one spot open at his position. But that’s just one thing he hopes to get done by the end of the season.

“Instead of being an alternate like last year, actually breaking the big three and making the Pro Bowl,” McKinnie said. “... And get my contract done.”

McKinnie’s rookie contract is set to expire at the end of the year and he’s been openly pushing to get his new contract extension completed soon instead of waiting until the end of the season.

While many Vikings fans hope that he gets his new contract and stays with the team for next season and beyond, for now McKinnie’s focus will be on the field, especially on what he can do to better himself and his fellow offensive linemen.

“As time progresses you get better. You get to watch film, see mistakes and learn from them,” McKinnie said. “Give us more time and we’ll be even better.”

McKinnie said that during parts of last season the offensive line appeared to suffer a breakdown with the loss of its leader Matt Birk, which led to the Vikings upgrading the position over the winter.

“At times it was (difficult),” McKinnie said. “(With Matt gone) we had less communication amongst the offensive line. But he knows what he’s doing and he makes everyone else’s job a little bit easier.”

With the return of Birk and the signing of Hutchinson, McKinnie says not only will everyone’s job on the offensive line be easier, but so will everyone’s on the offense, including the running backs in Brad Childress’ new offense.

“We’re going to run a little more than before behind a pretty good offensive line. This way we won’t have to worry about the opponent’s pass rush as much,” McKinnie said. “(The running game) will also be able to set up the play-action pass.”

In his four seasons with the Vikings so far, McKinnie has started 55 straight regular season games.

If he starts all 16 games this season, he will move into a tie for fifth place for most consecutive starts by a Vikings offensive tackle.

If he does this, he has a good chance of making his first Pro Bowl. And getting noticed and making a name for himself — just as Johnson predicted.

McKinnie looks forward to working on revamped line