As Bryant McKinnie sits at his locker, texting on his phone as usual, he looks up with a smile.
He already knew the question. "My plan worked," he blurted out with a heavy laugh.
McKinnie expected his time to come again with the Ravens. He just didn’t know it would take this long in his 11th season, and he gave credit to linebacker Ray Lewis for helping get him there.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh sat down with McKinnie after the regular season finale vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, when he looked rusty in playing 69 of 85 offensive snaps, and informed him that he would start at left tackle for last week’s wild-card playoff game with the Indianapolis Colts.
Jah Reid (toe), who started 7 games at left guard, didn’t play in that 24-9 victory.
“I kind of was laughing to myself. That’s how I set it up. I was happy,” McKinnie said. “I finally get a chance to play one of the biggest games.”
McKinnie lost his starting job at the beginning of the year and was forced to take a pay cut to stay. Michael Oher, who was shifted to take McKinnie’s spot and rookie Kelechi Osemele started all 16 games at right tackle.
With Oher returned to his natural position, Osemele replaced Reid at left guard. McKinnie expects to start again Saturday in a divisional playoff game at the Denver Broncos (CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET).
In Harbaugh’s doghouse since training camp, McKinnie had come under fire for being out of shape and having his motivation questioned. Conditioning has been an issue for him throughout his career, including in his first nine seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
Lewis reached out to him during the offseason, sending him text messages and emails on how to improve his endurance and explaining the benefits. He also began consuming enzymes that help with digestion.
“I’m eating better so it makes me feel better. In the past, even when I was in Minnesota, I wasn’t eating as good as I am now. The weight is similar to what I was in Minnesota but the condition and the actual feeling is different because of what I’m putting in my body,” said McKinnie, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds. “I cut out junk food and I (make) juice. I do that for breakfast. That makes you feel better.
“In the morning I have apple cider vinegar and I mix it with grapefruit juice and I drink that. It gives you a boost of energy. More fruits, more vegetables, just more healthy stuff which fuels your body to make you feel better. You still may get a little winded but you recover faster.”
In Minnesota, the book on McKinnie was obvious. He was good for a limited time only.
“I’d be playing real good for three quarters then in the fourth quarter it was like, ‘We can get him now. He’s run down.’ My endurance has gotten a lot better. … I didn’t know about all this stuff.”
Drinking liquids, including hydrating with water, controls hunger.
“When you’re hungry sometimes you’re dehydrated because they have the same signals to the brain. I’ve learned a lot,” he said, smiling broadly about his accomplishment.
Going into Denver, McKinnie isn’t concerned about the high altitude. He has played there before. He’d said around midseason that he was on pace to reclaim his old job. It took 15 regular season games before he played significant snaps on offense.
“After a certain time I was like, ‘I aint playing,’” McKinnie said, laughing hard at the thought. “Then once I knew the situation with that last game I was going to make it (that) they had no choice but to play me.
“That was my goal going out there. I’m going out there trying to knock everybody down.”