SANTA CLARA – The first part was the worst part for 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon after sustaining a torn ACL in his right knee on Saturday during a routine practice play.
He knew the injury was bad, but the first thing that crossed his mind was that he would not be available for his new team against his former team in Week 1 of the NFL regular season.
“I think I was more devastated, not at the fact when I found out I tore my ACL and was out for the season,” McKinnon said on Monday, “I was more devastated when it happened with the feeling of knowing I wouldn’t be all right for Week 1. I think this game probably meant a lot to me than anybody else, going against my former team.”
McKinnon played his first four NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. After signing a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency, the NFL released its regular-schedule. The 49ers were set to open the regular season on the road, Sunday, Sept. 9, against the Vikings.
“That initial thought was, ‘Dang, I’m not going to have a week to get my knee right,' ” McKinnon said. “That was probably the worst feeling. And then once they told me what the injury was, it just kind of confirmed it.”
McKinnon was placed on injured reserve on Monday. He will undergo surgery to repair to the torn ligament once the swelling goes down in his knee, he said.
Now, veteran Alfred Morris and second-year player Matt Breida will take over for McKinnon, who missed three weeks with a calf injury and was taking part in his first practice when he said he felt his cleat stick and his knee twist awkwardly.
“I think this is more of a mental battle than a physical battle, so for me it’s about keeping a positive mindset and making sure I still bring energy to this locker room and to the guys around me,” he said.
He said he will devote himself to being a good teammate and maintaining a positive attitude while being unable to make a contribution on the field.
“I can’t sit here and be down about it the whole time or feel sorry for myself because that’s not going to do anything but set me back even more,” McKinnon said. “I’m here to root these guys on and make sure they stay straight and make sure we get our team goals that we’ve all been talking about since I got here.”
McKinnon impressed those around the 49ers with his work ethic even before signing with the 49ers. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk reached out to McKinnon before free agency. At one point, McKinnon told Juszczyk he would call him back after he completed his second workout of the day.
Now, he will have to wait at least a year for the 49ers to receive any return on the investment they made in him.
“That was another tough pill to swallow, just because I know much work I put in, how much extra time I put in and coming to a new team, learning a new playbook and just me as a person how much I work,” McKinnon said.
“You put in a lot of work, then not being able to let that work show.”
McKinnon is taking the approach that he will put in the work again after surgery to rehabilitate and learn more and more about the Kyle Shanahan's offense to return in 2019 as a better player.
"Everything happens for a reason," McKinnon said "I feel like this is part of the bigger plan. As devastating and disappointing as it was for me to come to grips with not playing this year, that just wasn’t in God’s plan for me this year. I’m ready for the process to rebuild this knee, this leg, get back to running and watch these guys go out and do what they need to do."