"I'm a chill, laid-back guy, " said McKinnie, an avid tennis enthusiast who's friends with Serena and Venus Williams. "People think they know me because of whatever they read, but I don't cause trouble. People make wrong assumptions about me because of what happened in the offseason."

He inflicted damage to his own reputation, though.

McKinnie, who was cut by the Minnesota Vikings in August 2011 after weighing nearly 400 pounds, was involved in controversies dealing with his weight, conditioning and a morass of money disputes.

"I think Bryant is misunderstood," said six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who also played alongside McKinnie with the Vikings. "He's a quiet guy by nature, but he can lock a guy down all game. Bryant has a great disposition. I don't think he's concerned about what people think about him.

"I think he's a good player, and he's a real tough guy. Bryant understands our goals. He's one of the few guys you could plug in and block Freeney. He's very valuable to what we're trying to accomplish."

McKinnie said it no longer bothers him when people call him names, and he's heard it all on Twitter and jeers from the stands.

"I'm thick-skinned, I know I can't change some people's minds," McKinnie said. "I just live my life."

McKinnie said he's resolving his financial problems after previously defaulting on a $4.5 million loan that caused his wages to be garnished this season.

"Everything is cleaning up and falling into place," McKinnie said. "It's going in the right direction, and I'm sticking to that strategy."

Besides his weight loss and upgraded play, teammates have taken notice of how McKinnie handled a difficult situation when he was benched. He never complained.

"Bryant could have made a scene, but he stayed humble and patient," offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. "He's been truly unselfish. Now that he's better conditioned, I was like, 'Wow, he's really moving out there.' I'm proud of him."

Birk joked that McKinnie should be feeling good since he only operated in a substitute capacity in jumbo packages until last week.

"It's the freshest I've been since college," McKinnie said. "I don't have any wear and tear, so I can play very physical. I'm having fun out there."

awilson@baltsun.com

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