Jerick McKinnon aims to return to 49ers next season as a better player


Jerick McKinnon aims to return to 49ers next season as a better player

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."

New 49ers D-line coach Kris Kocurek might be right amount of crazy

New 49ers D-line coach Kris Kocurek might be right amount of crazy

During position drills at the beginning of each 49ers practice, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek’s gravelly voice can be heard from across the practice field. His antics may be seen as crazy to some, but to many of the players, it’s just the kind of crazy they need. 

At Arik Armstead’s Charity Gala in Sacramento during the offseason, several defensive players spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about Kocurek and what he brings to the defensive line room. DeForest Buckner explained that Kocurek’s brand of crazy meshes perfectly with their group.

“We all got to be crazy to play this game,” Buckner said. “I’m just going to say that. We all got to have that little crazy in us. He’s a perfect fit for our room.

“It’s about consistency. He’s the same guy every day. We all know he’s passionate in everything he does. All he wants is to see is us succeed, so we respect it, we love it, we feed off of it when we go out there and practice. We want to be the best that we can be every day. That’s what he expects from us, that’s the standard and he’s just an amazing coach.”  

Armstead is heading into his fifth NFL season and notes that Kocurek has brought a new energy into the room. 

“It’s been great,” Armstead said. “He’s an amazing coach. He’s really passionate about the game, he wants us to be successful. He does seem a little crazy, but in a good way. He’s really motivating and pushing us to reach our full potential and be the best we can be. We’re really excited to have him and have him leading us.”  

Fellow lineman Ronald Blair detailed that what Kocurek brings isn’t just about football. He is helping the group in all aspects of their lives. 

“It really just changes the outlook for all of us as young guys,” Blair said. “He’s bringing something different. It’s not just about football with him. It’s about outside life, it’s about dealing with your family, it’s about everything that you put in, to just get to this point. 

“I’m just grateful to have him as a coach. He’s already done numbers in just the month or two being here. I've got nothing but respect for him. I’m looking forward to the future with him.”  

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day explained how Kocurek's intensity has changed the mood of the 49ers' defense line.

“He’s changed our room completely,” Day said. “He’s made us be more competitive with each other than we ever have been before. Every day is a competition, everyday we want to be our best, every day we’ve got to be better than the day before. 

"He’s making sure we stay on task, he’s making sure that we detail our work. He’s just bringing the best out of us. We’re definitely grateful to have him in the room.”  

Richard Sherman might not be a defensive lineman, but he already has seen a change in the defensive line group since Kocurek arrived. Kocurek’s yelling might seem brash to outsiders, but Sherman believes it’s specific and purposeful. 

“I've never met a person great at anything who wasn’t a little crazy,” Sherman said. “People look at the yelling and screaming as a negative thing. It’s not like he’s just yelling and screaming at guys, and that’s the difference between him and a lot of coaches who kind of take that style. 

“He’s yelling techniques. He’s yelling 'get off.' He’s yelling run to the ball. He’s not yelling M.F. and cursing at guys for making mistakes, he’s just yelling effort. The effort he’s giving, the guys are just trying to match. And that’s something you can get behind and something you can go with. 

“He’s teaching incredible techniques and every one of the D-linemen is saying they are benefitting from it. So you can just appreciate the energy and the amount of time that he spends and amount of effort that he spends every day just to get his guys ready.” 

[RELATED: 'Different Solomon' Thomas impressing 49ers teammates]

The addition of edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa already has raised the expectations for the defense. Kocurek's ability to fit all of the moving pieces together will be tested once the season begins. 

Watch 49ers tight end George Kittle lift 350-plus pounds on bench press

Watch 49ers tight end George Kittle lift 350-plus pounds on bench press

Do you even lift, bro? If you're George Kittle, the answer is absolutely, yes.

The 49ers tight end has been hitting the weights lately, and we have footage to show just how ready he is for the upcoming season:

Yep -- that's 365 pounds on the bench, and he made it look pretty easy all things considered.

He celebrated with his friends afterward and I'll admit it, he got me pretty pumped up. I'm just going to stick to the 10-pound dumbbells for the time being.

[RELATED: Jimmy G relates Kittle to Rob Gronkowski]

Kittle is coming off a breakout season setting the NFL's single-season yard record by a tight end with 88 receptions and 1,377 receiving yards. That may be difficult to achieve once again, but if he doesn't get there it won't be because he was lazy.