Cover 9@9: Chiefs’ Jerick McKinnon persevered to salvage career after knee surgery

(Here’s the Super Bowl edition of the Cover 9@9 blog.)

PHOENIX 1. The no-spin zone: Kansas City running back Jerick McKinnon, after signing a lucrative four-year, $30 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, sustained a torn ACL that led to him missing the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“I was never taught to quit,” McKinnon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “If there was anything my mom or my brother, they wouldn’t let me quit. It was never a factor, never a thought.”

The former Georgia Southern quarterback, who was an all-state selection at quarterback by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coming out of Sprayberry High, was drafted in the third round (96th overall) by the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He played four seasons for the Vikings as a running back before he signed with the 49ers.

McKinnon, 30, played 2020 with the 49ers before he signed with the Chiefs. Being out for two seasons was tough.

“When I got down (because of) the two surgeries, I knew it would be tough,” McKinnon said. “It was tough. It was an emotional roller coaster. It was a lot to take mentally, but you know at the end of the day, you’ve got to dig deep.”

McKinnon was just getting rolling. He didn’t want to end his career early.

“When your back is against the wall, there are only two things that are going to happen,” McKinnon said. “You’re either going to fold or you’re going to find out if you’re really the person you say you are. That’s what happened.”

It was a rough climb, but he made it back. He rushed 81 times for 319 yards and five touchdowns in 2020 for the 49ers. In 2021 with the Chiefs, McKinnon played in 13 games tied his career-high of 5.2 yards per carry.

This season, he was one of Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets as he caught a career-high 56 passes for 512 yards and nine touchdowns. He also rushed 72 times for 291 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and a touchdown.

McKinnon, who’s set to play in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, reflected on his football journey from Cobb County to the NFL’s biggest game.

“You don’t really think about it when you’re going through it, just a lot of love and support back home,” McKinnon said. “I wouldn’t be where (I am) if it wasn’t for where I grew up from, Marietta. They definitely played a big role in my life, how I work alongside my last name as well. All of that stuff and those factors have played a role in me getting here today. It’s just a blessing to be here.”

McKinnon appreciates his role on the team and being a witness to the first two Black quarterbacks to start in the same Super Bowl in Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.

“It’s a milestone for the African-American culture,” McKinnon said. “It’s something that I can look back one day and tell my kids that I was a part of that game. I was a part of history.”

McKinnon believes his days at quarterback, which included an upset of Florida, helped him in the NFL.

“I just would say that it has helped me see the overall picture of an offense versus if I was to come into this offense fresh,” McKinnon said. “If I was only looking at the running back position. For what I’ve got to do in my assignments, playing quarterback has helped me with the playbook, understanding concepts, where people have to be in a certain position to open up things for certain routes.”

He admires Mahomes.

“I wish I could throw like him,” McKinnon said. “I can’t do all the crazy throws and stuff like that. He’s definitely has a cannon.”

2. Third time: Chiefs coach Andy Reid is not drawing any comparisons with his previous two Chiefs teams that reached the Super Bowl.

“Every team is different every year,” Reid said. “This group here is a bunch of young guys that stepped up to the plate with the guidance of some veteran players on both sides of the ball. (They) have achieved to this point. I mean, it’s a great tribute to the team itself.”

3. Can London help Willis: Former Falcons quarterback coach Charles London left the team to become the passing-game coordinator/quarterbacks coach with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday.

After working with Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder, he will play a role in the development of quarterback Malik Willis, who played at Westlake and Roswell high schools. Willis went to Auburn and finished at Liberty before the Titans took him 12 picks after the Falcons took Ridder last season.

London, who played at Dunwoody High and Duke, was with the Falcons for the past two seasons.

4. Kansas City, Philadelphia connections: Reid was the coach of the Eagles from 1999-2012. He went to the Chiefs in 2013.

“There are similarities between Kansas City and Philadelphia,” Reid said. “There are very, very good fans for both teams and organizations. I was lucky to work for both teams. Both teams have great ownership. So, I’ve been very fortunate that way.”

Reid remains fond of his days with the Eagles, which included a 27-10 win over the Falcons in the NFC title game after the 2004 season.

“It was my first opportunity to be a head coach,” Reid said. “It was a great learning experience. I loved every minute of it. I loved every day of it. It was tremendous, great experience.”

5. Great quarterbacks: Reid noted that he’s coached some of the league’s top quarterbacks over his NFL career, which started on Mike Holmgren’s staff in Green Bay in 1992.

“Yeah, so you’re as great a quarterback coach as you have the great quarterbacks,” Reid said. “So, I’ve been very fortunate to have really good players, starting with Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and it goes on. These guys were gifted by God with their abilities. Then it was just an opportunity and a privilege to have an opportunity to teach them. But tremendous, tremendous players.”

6. Mahomes’ motivation: Mahomes doesn’t do much to get motivated to win Super Bowl LVII.

“The motivating factor is that you want to be the best,” Mahomes said. “You’re in the biggest game of your life, and you want to go out there and make memories with your teammates. I think the biggest motivating factor is stepping on that field and trying to be the best. We know we got a great challenge in the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Mahomes is 1-1 in Super Bowl appearances. The loss stung more than enjoying the victory.

“The win was amazing,” Mahomes said. “It is one of the best moments of your entire life. And you take away all the positives from that, but that loss stings and motivates you for years, right? That’s what it’s done for me.”

He’s used that motivation to make it back to the Super Bowl.

“I want to make sure that I get that winning feeling because that losing feeling is one that you never forget,” Mahomes said.

7. Mahomes on pressure: Mahomes plans to maintain his high level of play against the Eagles.

“I don’t feel the pressure,” Mahomes said. “I feel the pressure of proving my teammates right every day, being the man that I tried to set the example to be. That’s coming to work every day and giving everything I have.

“If I do that the rest of this week and into the game, I believe that we’ll come out with a win. If we don’t, I know that I gave everything I had.”

8. Eagles sack exchange: The Eagles have four players with double-digit sacks. They finished the regular season with 70 sacks and picked up eight more in the playoffs as they outscored the opposition 69-14.

Haason Reddick leads the way with 19.5 sacks. Josh Sweat (12.5), Javon Hargrave (12) and Brandon Graham (12) also are in double-digits.

9. Edwards-Helaire update: Kansas City running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire returned to practice Tuesday after he was activated from injured reserve.

“We’ll practice him this week and see where we’re at,” Reid said. “(Ronald) Jones has done a good job for us, too. We’ll see how that all works out. It’s good to have him back.”

The Chiefs placed former Georgia standout Mecole Hardman (pelvic injury) on injured reserve. Edwards-Helaire is coming off a high ankle sprain. He has not played since Week 11 against the Chargers.