Takk McKinley, defensive end, played in all 16 regular season games and the playoffs, recording 6 sacks and 15 tackles. What happened next? He is entering the second year of a four-year, $10.21 million contract.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Next in line for breakout second season, Takk McKinley has to get healthy

Asked how he feels, McKinley summons just one word.

“Good,” he says. He then repeats that twice more, pausing in between.

Frustration is forgivable for the second-year defensive end out of UCLA — coined next in line for the breakout second season that seems to have become an annual tradition in Flowery Branch. Head coach Dan Quinn recently spoke with McKinley about that very subject, about how McKinley would follow suit.

“He gave me examples of our second-year guys,” McKinley said. “(Deion Jones) made the Pro Bowl his second year, (Keanu Neal) made the Pro Bowl his second year, Vic (Beasley) made the Pro Bowl his second year, Grady (Jarrett) had a good year.”

Next year at this time, it would seem no stretch to forecast McKinley being the next on that list. He had six sacks a season ago, two more in the playoffs. He says he should’ve had 13.

But?

“Just because they had a good second year, don’t guarantee that I’ll have a good second year,” he said. “Sophomore slump is a huge thing.”

And then there’s the matter at hand. Progress becomes much more difficult if you can’t find the field. McKinley remains limited in camp, still working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. That’s where the frustration seeps in.

When asked about the jump from first year to second year, Quinn spoke glowingly about one of his second-year defenders. But it’s not McKinley his mentions first, rather linebacker Duke Riley. 

McKinley and the team say it’s nothing major. He practiced in a limited capacity Monday, but was held from full 11-on-11 work. He might even play Friday night in the exhibition opener against the Jets. If he doesn’t, one preseason game will do little to stunt his growth.

There’s still an underlying unease about the lingering issue. McKinley says he thinks the defensive line has “the potential to be one of the top D-lines in the NFL.” If that’s going to be the case, it seems McKinley will be the one making the biggest leap forward. Minicamp flows into training camp, training camp into preseason. September 6th against the Eagles is only a month away — to the day. 

That’s where his itching desire stems from. 

“It always sucks when you’re not out there on the field,” McKinley said. “That’s why I play football. I’m not trying to be on the sidelines. I’m trying to be out there on the field in action. It sucks, but I just take it day by day.”

Quinn added that McKinley’s skill-set and position allow for a lessened chance of rusty technique. McKinley can still work on his footwork and angles while his shoulder returns to full health. All indications from both parties are that he’s done so.

“He did work hard in his rehab — of course, he didn’t get all the reps that he normally has,” Quinn said. “Fortunately, at his position, it’s about angles and going against the guys.”

That’s not to say there’s a drop in confidence; that is decidedly not in McKinley’s M.O. When he says he should have had 13 sacks last season, he means it. And when he says there will be no rust once he gets to go-ahead from the medical staff, you take him at his word.

“It’s one of those things, you just don’t forget how to play football,” he said. “That’s something you don’t forget. you know how to play football. It sucks not being out there, but I know once I’m back out there, I’ll be fine.”

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