A mere four months ago, the former Minnesota Vikings rotational ball carrier jumped at the opportunity to make his mark as a premier NFL running back. But with that also comes the complexities of familiarizing yourself with a completely foreign offense. Kyle Shanahan's scheme isn't for the feint of heart, either, which made McKinnon's first few months with the San Francisco 49ers somewhat overwhelming.
"When first got here, I was lost," McKinnon admitted on Thursday. "My head was spinning with the different protections that I've got to learn and the different concepts I've got to learn. Basically, I had to take my old way of thinking that I'd been doing for four years and switch it up into a new one."
It's a known fact that Shanahan possesses one of the league's more sophisticated offensive schemes. But in the same regard, Shanahan's intricate playbook and complex run game could be the exact reason McKinnon believed his best opportunity to flourish resided in San Francisco.
McKinnon is set to be an integral part of the 49ers offense. His versatility as both a runner and a pass catcher made landing McKinnon a top priority for the 49ers this offseason. So much so that the former backup signed the fourth-largest contract for an NFL running back.
But Shanahan's admiration for McKinnon makes sense when you consider the deployment of often referenced Devonta Freeman. As the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, Shanahan orchestrated the NFL's highest scoring offense in 2016. Shanahan hand-picked McKinnon as his next pupil to groom.
"We studied every run he had in Minnesota. I think he fits in the type of runs we do very well," Shanahan said on Wednesday. "He's got the speed. He's got the cutting ability, and he's got the toughness to run through arm tackles. Then the pass game is the huge bonus. He is a matchup issue. He's very good in his routes. I think he's similar to (Freeman) in that way with the guy you were bringing up. Just versatility-wise, he's going to help us a lot."
During the first play of the 49ers opening training camp practice, McKinnon flashed, turning upfield and breaking free on a big run that could have gone for a score. Later during the practice, he caught a short pass from Jimmy Garoppolo and took off down the right sideline. The long play sealed a productive session for San Francisco's RB1.
It's safe to assume McKinnon's got a decent grip of his new offense. No longer is his head spinning with new concepts and terminology.
"I feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable with each and every practice," McKinnon added. "Just being new to an offense, you're learning the verbiage and the plays. It was a lot when I first got here. I had to really focus in on studying. But since I've been here in team meetings with coach Shanahan and seeing his IQ for the game and how he sees the game and the way he calls plays has definitely helped me grasp the offense more.
"I guess it's complex when you're new to it. But once you start studying and learning more, you get it. So, I don't know if I will call it complex any more. I'm starting to get it."