Ravens veteran offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie was convinced he had assumed permanent residence inside coach John Harbaugh's doghouse.
Between frequently facing concerns about his weight and conditioning, reporting late for training camp after saying he hurt his lower back in a fall at his South Florida home, grading out poorly as a run blocker and facing multiple lawsuits from creditors, McKinnie experienced a year filled with nightmares.
If McKinnie hadn't accepted a $1 million pay cut that slashed his base salary from $3.2 million to $2.2 million six days before the season opener, he would have been cut from the roster.
Then, the 6-foot-8, 354-pound offensive lineman didn't start a single regular-season game for the first time in his career as Michael Oher shifted to left tackle.
"It was a pretty harsh, tough year," McKinnie said. "I should come out with a music album called, 'Misunderstood.' I really don't know all of the reasons why I was in the doghouse, but it's over with now."
Now, the 11-year veteran has escaped from the doghouse just in time for the playoffs.
Starting at left tackle during the Ravens' AFC wild-card victory, 24-9, over the Indianapolis Colts, McKinnie shut out accomplished pass rusher Dwight Freeney as the veteran didn't record a tackle. Noticeably slimmer, McKinnie has upgraded his mobility significantly since a sluggish offseason.
"Yeah, Bryant looked really good last week," Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "He's bending, he's moving his feet well. We need him to play well, and he's been doing that. We're excited about that."
Heading into Saturday's AFC divisional-round matchup against the top-seeded Denver Broncos, the AFC North champions have given McKinnie the pivotal assignment of protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blind side.
McKinnie will match up against Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who ranks second on the Broncos with 11 sacks.
"It's a good feeling to be able to help your team out," said McKinnie, who earned the second-highest grade on the entire offense from Pro Football Focus for his performance against Freeney. "I'm just happy. It's all working out in the end. I'm bouncing back. I'm back starting, and I feel like I'm playing well. It's not like this is too big for me. I've been here before."
For McKinnie, it was a relatively complicated journey from sitting on the bench to getting back in the good graces of the organization.
He had to lose weight, and did so partly by following linebacker Ray Lewis' exercise and nutrition tips, including using a juicer to mix apple cider vinegar with grapefruit juice for breakfast.
The toe injury that sidelined Ravens left guard Jah Reid triggered a shuffle on the offensive line Sunday — McKinnie started at left tackle, Oher shifted to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele moved to left guard after starting 16 games at right tackle.
Behind the scenes, McKinnie had a meeting with Harbaugh a few weeks ago to discuss what he needed to do become a starter again.
"Coach Harbaugh wanted to see more from me in practice," McKinnie said. "I explained to him that, being on the scout team, I didn't want to wear out guys like Terrell Suggs and had just been getting in their way to give them a look, but he wanted me to show him what I could really do. So, I picked it up."
Although McKinnie displayed obvious rust when he played 73 of 89 offensive snaps and allowed a sack in the Ravens' 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season finale, he still got the call to start last week against the Colts.
It was part of a concerted effort to get the best five blockers on the field. The change worked as the Ravens allowed just one sack against the Colts.
"The fact that Bryant McKinnie could step in there and play as well as he did, he's been practicing so well the last two or three weeks," Harbaugh said. "You could just tell he was getting healthy, and it was time for him to play."
Soft-spoken and quiet, McKinnie resides in a talkative corner of the Ravens' locker room. He's flanked by Lewis, running back Ray Rice and rookie kicker Justin Tucker.
"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."
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