It’s a long and tough road to get to the NFL for most players, but it might be an even more difficult task to get yourself mentally and physically “Ready To Play” in the NFL week in and week out. As we work our way towards the start of the NFL season, we’re speaking with a different NFL player each week and getting a first-hand account from them on how they get themselves ready for all of the rigors that come with competing at the NFL level. Here’s Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon, discussing how he gets “Ready To Play.”

The first couple of weeks of rehab after my back surgery in December I didn’t really do anything except walk on the treadmill. It was tough at first, you know, having that surgery and then having to get your balance back. You really have to start slowly, really slowly start working out again, and you definitely don’t have your wind anymore. You’re out of shape and everything is a struggle.

But it’s something where, no matter what kind of surgery or what kind of setback you’ve got, you just have to attack the rehab full force and eventually the results are going to come. That was my main focus, just trying to work back as hard as I can, get my wind back, get into great shape, but at the same time staying on top of the exercises and things that I need to do to make sure that my back stays good or kept feeling good and kept getting better throughout the process.

Now that I’m done with that, I’m ready to go, I’m all good. 

This offseason I kind of bounced around a little bit because of rehab but as soon as I got done with rehab I trained with Kyle Rudolph out in California for a month and a half. Then I came back and we had mini camp, OTA’s, stuff like that. After that I shot down to Houston and I trained with A.P. for like two or three days while I was down there.

I learned a lot from A.P. real quick this offseason. When we worked out together in Houston I really got to see first hand why he’s been playing at such a high level for the X amount of years that he’s been in the league. He puts everything he has into his training, he takes care of his body, he eats right, all the things that make a pro, he does it and he exceeds expectations of it.

Coming in as a young guy, my first year into my second year, I’d either watch him practice or you know, work out with him so I can see how he trains and take all those little things and try and store it in my memory bank and keep working myself to getting that way.

EDEN PRAIRIE, MN: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings runs a drill as teammate Jerick McKinnon #31 looks on during practice at Winter Park. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

After that I came back up to Minnesota to get some stuff done with my body, make sure I’m feeling good and I’m up here training with Kyle Rudolph again.

It’s been fun training with Kyle. He kind of took me in like a big brother and he really helped me get right this offseason.

The thing I asked him before I came to train with him was ‘what kind of stuff are ya’ll doing? Is it like little muscles, activating those muscles before the big muscles and whatnot?’ He said ‘yeah’ and you know I can trust his word with everything. Had nothing but great results with him. 

It was pretty easy actually because I’ve always loved working out; I’ve attacked that full force from day one. The biggest thing that I really learned about this past year was how to take care of my body and being familiar with the small muscles, staying on top of those whether it’s hitting some trigger points or something like that. It’s the little things in this league that you really have to keep sharp, that’s the only way to get adjusted.

It was a dream come true to get to play as much as I did last year, but even with rehab and the season getting cut short, I would definitely say I’m more ready for this year than last year. It wasn’t anything with my preparation or anything like that, it’s just that as a first year guy you have to get acclimated to how things work and stuff like that. 

You really have to get comfortable with plays and the playbook, especially how coach calls the calls and things like that. I think that’s the biggest thing I learned last year as the season went on. I’m still fresh and new to everything but I was getting a little bit more comfortable each week, and it just allowed me to play faster and see things faster and everything kind of slowed down and made it a little easier for me. 

I really started to learn how to prepare for the game better, too. Whether it’s film study, watching the defense, seeing how guys play and how they move and stuff, that was something I really felt progressing. Personally, I’m watching the linebackers. I watch how they drop, how they plug gaps, things like that, but everybody has their own way of how they look at things.

I really like, in practice, to ask the other running backs if they felt there was something else I could have done – hit a different gap, find a different hole or something like that. If I mess up in practice I pretty much know why I did and which gap I should have hit, but I always ask guys ‘what would you have hit there?’ It’s just about constant communication with other running backs and getting feedback. The young guys like myself always like to pick everybody’s head, we love to know what they’re thinking and want to get another point of view. 

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Even besides another point of view, sometimes you can just find another way of doing something that’ll help you.

AP actually told me about the underwater treadmill. I started using it on Monday or Tuesday with some resistance to start off my week. Then Thursday for the most part the running backs are running gassers. Then at practice you get the looks that you’re going to most likely see in the game. Whatever we do run, or when I’m watching film, I’m trying as hard as I can to remember how things look on certain plays so you know when and where you should hit. That can also depend on where defenses are aligned but for the most part that gives you a solid idea of how it’s going to go.

Then we meet Saturday night, you know, the whole offense goes over film. Coach Norv (Turner) does the talking, but in my mind – well, I’m listening to what he’s saying – but at the same time, I’m watching the play and visualizing. I’m using imagery to put myself in a game-type situation on that play and see what I would do. 

Saturday morning we have walk throughs and I’ll get me some buffalo shrimp from Redstone, really good, hot buffalo shrimp. I’ll get a little order, like five buffalo shrimp and eat them when I get to the hotel.

Depending on what we have for dinner, I’ll go low with the carbs, just look for something light but something that can get me through the night. I try to hydrate as much as I can that night because we all have to pee in a cup the next day to make sure we’re hydrated. That night, I make sure I stretch out really good, make sure I feel really good and make sure I’m loose. Besides that, the rest of it’s pretty much mental. Then it’s game time and all I’m trying to do in my free time is make sure my body’s feeling good and it’s all in sync and ready to rock.