Former Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said Friday the offensive line is making a slow adjustment to new run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, with players bristling at changes to the blocking scheme one season removed from winning the Super Bowl.
Traded from the Ravens to the Miami Dolphins on Monday in exchange for a conditional late-round draft pick, McKinnie said that players don't understand why last year's offensive approach has been altered. The one-time Pro Bowl blocker chalked up the disconnect and friction with Castillo to players wanting to maintain their successful approach from last season instead of adopting a revamped blocking scheme.
"When he first got there, Juan definitely said he wanted to make changes," McKinnie said from South Florida in a telephone interview. "I like to stick with what works, but Juan wants it done his way. Now, people are getting impatient and aren't trying to wait anymore. Everything should be running more smoothly.
"Juan has been telling us since the offseason that by the eighth or ninth game, things would be where we wanted it to be and everybody would get adjusted. Well, we're almost to that point in the season. So, hopefully it works out."
In the aftermath of a 19-17 defeat to the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago where the Ravens rushed for 47 yards on 22 carries, sources say multiple players went to coach John Harbaugh to complain about Castillo. The Ravens used a back-to-basics approach against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a 19-16 defeat in which they rushed for 82 yards on 26 carries.
Castillo was signed by the Ravens to a lucrative three-year contract after the former Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach and defensive coordinator was also pursued by the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. McKinnie emphasized that he likes Castillo personally, but says he believes the veteran coach hasn't adapted his approach to the Ravens' existing personnel.
"Juan likes to develop young players, because that's what he did in Philly," McKinnie said. "He is a good coach and he does help you with your technique, but he wants it done a certain way. My thing is everybody doesn't have the exact same talent or learn things the same way. I don't feel like you can coach everybody exactly the same. Not everyone is going to react the same.
"Five individuals can't do the same thing. That's what they have instead of trying to make everybody a robot. You need to learn about your players and know their strengths and weaknesses and coach them that way. Juan is highly-rated, but it takes time to adjust to what he's looking for. There's a lot of thinking involved. So, it's a lot of change for everyone to take in."
During training camp, Harbaugh heavily praised Castillo and has supported him during the season as well.
"I would say Juan is maybe the finest teacher of football in the National Football League," Harbaugh said in August. "He teaches the game as well as anybody you’re ever going to see, and those guys, they like to work for him. They want to stay out to get extra reps because they understand that the things that he's teaching them are going to help them be a better player."
McKinnie emphasized that injuries have impacted the Ravens' offensive line, noting that offensive guards Kelechi Osemele (back) and Marshal Yanda (offseason rotator cuff surgery) aren't at their normal capabilities.
"When you're not healthy, some things get pushed to the side," McKinnie said. "People don't play at the same level when they have to fight through nagging things to be able to play on gameday. You're not going to get the same results when you're not fully healthy.
"People don't grasp that. The fans expect you to play and perform at the same level, but injuries definitely are a factor. There's a lot of things that take place behind the scenes that people don't know about."
Although it was a frequently bumpy ride with the Ravens that ended with him being replaced at left tackle by Eugene Monroe before being unloaded to the Dolphins, McKinnie says he harbors no hard feelings about his time in Baltimore and cherishes his Super Bowl ring.
"I look at the whole experience of me coming to Baltimore as a positive even though we both moved on at the end," McKinnie said. "I thanked Ray Lewis at the ring ceremony in June because he was the key instrument in me coming to Baltimore. He stepped up and called me every day and orchestrated the whole thing. He really taught me a lot. I told him that in a conversation and he was amazed that I took the time out to say how much I appreciated that.
"I learned so many things from him. I take what I learned from him and I'll try to teach these other guys down here in Miami and be a mentor. I appreciated my time in Baltimore. It was a great learning experience and I was able to get a ring. I will always be a part of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl team. That's something no one can ever take away."
The Ravens re-signed McKinnie, 34, in May to a two-year, $6.3 million contract that included a $2 million signing bonus. It didn't work out as planned. The 6 foot 8, 360-pound former Pro Bowl blocker reported to training camp overweight, failing to meet his prescribed target weight of 346 pounds and didn't earn any of his weekly $6,250 weight bonuses.
Once the Ravens traded for Monroe, who's eight years younger and nearly 60 pounds lighter than McKinnie, McKinnie knew his time was up in Baltimore. He went to general manager Ozzie Newsome and requested a trade to the Dolphins, which represents familiar surroundings since he lives in Aventura, Fla., and played at the University of Miami, where he was a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy winner.
After being scratched for two games following the trade and having his knee drained, his wish for relocation was accomodated.
"I had spoken to Ozzie and told him the situation because I could see the transition," McKinnie said. "My knee had been acting up all year. It was the perfect time for Eugene to go in. I could see the transition. Instead of us both being there and me sitting down when I'm capable of still playing, I asked if it was possible to trade me. I kept hearing about teams needing tackles. I told Ozzie I prefer to play for Miami because it's an easier transition for me. And he got it done."
McKinnie struggled this season after excelling as a pass blocker when inserted into the lineup at the start of last season's playoffs, which ended in a Super Bowl championship.
McKinnie surrendered one sack, 15 quarterback pressures and four quarterback hits and was penalized twice this season, according to Pro Football Focus. The metrics site ranks him 66th among NFL offensive tackles.
"I got penalties in the Houston game, but it wasn't a bad game overall," McKinnie said. "I got the facemask penalties, but I played fine and only one of them was a legit penalty. The Cleveland game went fine. The rest of them were pretty decent. I'm just glad to get a fresh start and another chance in Miami."
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