Falcons coach Dan Quinn praised his take-off from the line of scrimmage and his ability to finish at the quarterback for sacks, hits or pressures.
“He can really beat a guy to the punch,” Quinn said. “He has that kind of speed. We saw him play linebacker at UCLA where he was in a two-point stance. Some where he was down and was really going. We saw him play on both sides and (he has) that kind of flexibility. I’m anxious to work with him.”
McClure points to some intangible reasons why McKinley will be a nice fit with the Falcons and in the NFL.
“Obviously, he’s a goal-oriented young man from way back when he was a young man growing up in Richmond, (Calif.),” said McClure, who’s a 20-year coaching veteran and headed into his 11th season at UCLA. “He wanted to play Division I football and he wanted to play in the NFL. He had to overcome a lot of obstacles and challenges. That’s the impressive thing about Takk is that he did what he had to do to fulfill his goals.
“He grew up in a tougher area and avoided a lot of negative distractions. He pushed hard in school with his academics.”
McKinley was the hit of the draft after his live TV interview with Deion Sanders. He was so emotional that he let loose with a few expletives, while carrying around a big picture of his grandmother, Myrtle Collins.
McClure was one of the few people who fully understood and could appreciate McKinley’s state of mind. He knew of McKinley’s family struggles and his issues with getting into a major college.
“He overcame a situation in which the school he signed with misread his transcripts and gave him wrong information and sent him down an alternate path, which was the junior college path,” McClure said. “Then for us to continue to recruit him and have him take all of the classes that he needed at the junior college to be able to get accepted to UCLA, he did all of those things. Then we found … or we interpreted the transcript differently than Cal did and we were able to make him a qualifier. Which then led to him transferring to UCLA early.”
Just to get to that point, McKinley, who didn’t have either of his parents in his life, he had to persevere.
“He overcame a lot and we’re not even talking about his personal life,” McClure said. “Growing up without a mom or dad is very difficult. The support of the surrounding family that he has, obviously his grandmother took him in and after she passed his (aunt Peggy Wiggins and) cousin (Sylvester Wiggins) took him in, which was also challenging. He moved around a lot as a young man. Boy, he’s overcome a lot.”
McKinley, 21, was rated as the third best edge rusher in the draft by Dane Brugler’s 2017 NFL Draft Guide, behind Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick, and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, who went 14th to the Eagles.
“You know, Takk has a lot of talent and natural ability,” McClure said. “I felt that my job was to get him comfortable with the schematics so that those natural abilities would come out.”
After a protracted battle with the NCAA, McKinley joined the Bruins for the fourth game of the 2014 season.
“His first year with us, he did a lot of the dirty work,” McClure said. “He played a little bit out of position, but at that time, that’s what our scheme was. He had the opportunity to play behind Owa Odighizuwa, who plays for the New York Giants now. So, he had a great mentor to look at when they were out on the field or if they were watching film in the classroom.”
Odighizuwa was also a good technician for McKinley to study.
“That helped Takk out and as Owa moved on, he took over that spot as a junior,” McClure said. “He started every game and really excelled. The more repetitions he got, the better he got. I think everybody saw that his last two years.”
Unleashed and more refined by McClure, McKinley had 25.5 tackles for losses and 14.5 sacks over his final two seasons. He also caused five forced fumbles, which is one of Quinn’s favorite stats.
“I keep seeing these freaky stats that come out on Takk … people are breaking him down every way possible,” McClure said. “I saw one yesterday where he lead the country in quarterback pressures. That’s something that we grade at UCLA, but we don’t compare him to everyone else in the country.”
The Falcons were murky about the recovery timetable for McKinley’s shoulder, which was operated on in early March. He stated at the combine that is was a four- to six-month recovery period. He’s back at the earliest in July, at the latest September. The Falcons report to camp in late July and open the regular season Sept. 10.
“This is a feisty group,” McKinley said. “They want to win. I just want to do whatever I can do to help contribute.”
Quinn is hopefully he’ll be ready to go at the start of camp, but the Falcons are not likely rush McKinley back into the action.
“He was somebody that we’ve watched for a long time,” Quinn said. “He was somebody that was in out sight that we hoped to add and have contribute to our team based on the speed, the finishing ability, the toughness. We are really pumped about having him here.”
McClure sees bright things in McKinley’s future.
“I really think his best football is yet to come,” McClure said. “In high school, he didn’t have a defensive line coach. Again, he was only at the (junior college) for a year. I’m his longest standing position coach that he’s ever had. I think going on to the Atlanta Falcons is great for him. (Quinn) is a defensive line guy, (Bryant Young) is obviously the defensive line coach and Jeff Ulbrich is the linebackers coach. He’s surrounded by some really talented coaches in Atlanta. I would think that they are going to take Takk to the next level.”