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06-23-2010, 06:16 PM
Catching Up


By Gabe Hiatt
DenverBroncos.com

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Jabar Gaffney can't say it. Minnesota Vikings Pro-Bowler Sidney Rice can't either. Kenny McKinley won't agree with it, but he has trouble keeping his cheeks from creasing up in a smile when it comes up.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed to McKinley as the best wide receiver he coached in more than 20 years of orchestrating his run-and-gun offense.

"It means a lot coming from coach Spurrier," McKinley said. "He's coached a lot of guys that he's put in the league, a lot of good receivers that he's been through. I couldn't say that I'm the best he's ever coached, but if he says it..."

McKinley lets Spurrier's testimony speak for itself, but the praise of a past coach doesn't carry much weight in the NFL. Although he was the only rookie in the league to average 22 yards on kick returns and 10 yards on punt returns, McKinley hasn't registered a reception in the NFL regular season.

Minicamp was a different story. While he also saw time at kick and punt returner, McKinley spent his offseason practices hauling in catch after catch all over the field.

"I'm a little more comfortable," he said. "I'm kind of getting a little more of the offense under my belt, knowing a little more after a whole year into the league. You learn more and get bigger and stronger. I just feel like I'm ready to go out there and compete for a job this year."

He took advantage of every rep he could get at OTAs when the veteran receivers had time off from practice. When they came back, he was waiting to soak up advice like a sweat towel on a sopping football.

"I got Eddie Royal who's closer to my age so he can more relate to me," McKinley said. "He's like my big brother, man. He tells me what to do, what I'm doing wrong, do this, do that. Jabar Gaffney who's been in this offense for a long time. He knows it like the coaches know it so he's like the coach of the group. We got (Brandon) Stokley who's been in the league over 11 or 12 years and I go to 'Stoke' for about everything. Brandon Lloyd has been in the league for a long time. There's a lot of guys that I got a chance to really learn from and ask questions about, and they kind of take me like their little brother under their wing."

Receivers coach Adam Gase instructs McKinley with more of a tough love approach.

"He's on me like crazy," McKinley said. "He rides me coming back to the huddle, full speed everything I do. He's just making me a better player. Running sprints he wants me to be first. In everything I do he's on my back and in my ear. I gotta just choke it up and take what he's saying. He's trying to get me better and he's getting me better because I'm learning everything."

When McKinley's not stabbing his cleats in the turf he's sticking his nose in a playbook. The second-year wideout still has to study every night to try and grasp the offense.

"You have to put your thinking cap on more, so I come to work every day ready to learn more, observe and absorb knowledge from all my teammates around me because the offense is tough," he said. "I'm just trying to stay ahead of the game by studying at night and coming in and meeting with my coach early."

In one respect McKinley's already ahead of the curve. Head Coach Josh McDaniels has said Kyle Orton is the starter at quarterback, but McKinley is comfortable with the other quarterbacks on the roster as well. McKinley managed to set records at South Carolina for receiving yardage and receptions despite playing with a revolving door of quarterbacks.

"That really prepared me because I probably played with six or seven different quarterbacks while I was at USC, so it's my job to get open and catch the ball," he said. "Whoever's throwing it, it's no big deal."

McKinley said he keeps a chip on his shoulder, studies hard and searches for a way to improve every day. He's had a strong offseason showcasing his speed, but he knows he has to continue to perform if he wants a bigger role. The NFL is a dog-eat-dog league.

"Everybody's competing," he said. "Everybody wants to be out there and be that guy who's starting because we have a lot of talent at receiver. You can't put everybody on the field, so everybody's competing for a spot."