By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Takkarist McKinley should be next in the line of the second-year breakout players on the Atlanta Falcons’ defense – if he’s healthy enough to make the next step while moving past another shoulder injury.
McKinley has had surgeries on both shoulders the last two years — the right following his 2016 season at UCLA and the left following his 2017 rookie season with the Falcons.
A new problem, a bruised right shoulder, has prevented the second-year defensive end from participating in team drills for most of the start of training camp. He again was limited to individual drills on Monday.
The Falcons say there’s no structural problem, but McKinley’s status is uncertain for Atlanta’s preseason opener at the New York Jets on Friday night.
McKinley said Monday he’s never happy “when you’re not out there on the field. When I play football, I’m not trying to be on the sideline, I’m trying to be out there on the field.”
Coach Dan Quinn said “Takk” could be cleared for full participation on Tuesday, so he hasn’t been ruled out for the game against the Jets.
The Falcons likely will take a cautious approach with McKinley, the 2017 first-round pick whose health is a key to continued improvement by the defense.
He had six sacks as a rookie backup in 2017. The Falcons hope he can earn a starting job and emerge as another player who makes significant progress in his second year.
“It will happen with Takk,” Quinn said Monday. “We’ll see that jump from him.”
McKinley said Quinn has talked with him about how the team’s other projected starting defensive end, Vic Beasley Jr., led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks in 2016, his second season. Quinn also told McKinley about safety Keanu Neal and linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell earning Pro Bowl honors in their second seasons and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett also breaking out in his second year.
“But just because they had a good second year don’t guarantee that I’ll have a good second year,” McKinley said. “The sophomore slump is a huge thing.
“Obviously I’m trying to be on the good side, not the slump side. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to prove yourself to be better.”
McKinley actually proved a lot as a rookie. After his six sacks in the regular season, he added two more in the playoffs.
“Looking back I should have had at least 13 sacks if I had finished,” he said, adding he missed opportunities when he would “reach out with your arms instead of wrapping up.”
Adrian Clayborn led the Falcons with 9 1/2 sacks last season before signing with New England. Clayborn’s departure opens the way for McKinley and Beasley, now a full-time end after spending time at outside linebacker last season, to be the starting ends.
Even when he’s not on the practice field, McKinley said he’s preparing for the bigger workload as a starter.
“When I’m not there on 11 on 11, I’m trying to stay in shape and do things inside to get me prepared for the reps I’m going to have this season,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest thing, just understanding that I’m going to be playing more.”
NOTES: Former six-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson visited practice and posed for a photo with Falcons receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley. … The Falcons have ruled out PK Matt Bryant (undisclosed injury) and OT Ty Sambrailo (right hand) for the preseason opener. Bryant, 44, was on the field during part of the practice. Quinn said Bryant “is coming along quickly but he’s not there yet.”