INDIANAPOLIS –Brandon McKinney was the third piece of a Baltimore puzzle that was brought to Indianapolis last year by Chuck Pagano.
Pagano imported Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski almost immediately at the start of free agency last year to help implement the 3-4 defense he wanted.
McKinney followed three weeks later with the intention of playing and helping others along the line get acclimated to a new system.
McKinney was motoring well until a preseason knee injury at Washington ended his year. The ACL tear was a debilitating setback for the team and McKinney, and he is working his way toward a return for training camp.
"When you get hurt, it's always disappointing, but this is probably the most positive I've ever been about an injury in my life," said McKinney. "I learned a lot from it. I figure this is where I'm supposed to be now. This is what's supposed to happen. That's where I am mentally with the whole situation. It's the worst I've been hurt."
McKinney joined San Diego in 2006 as an undrafted free agent, and he joined Baltimore in 2008 via the same route.
While starting four-of-41 games with the Ravens, he encountered Pagano, and McKinney felt coming to Indianapolis was a solid opportunity.
"I felt like this was the best chance of my career," said McKinney. "I started looking at it as a coming out party for me, getting my career jump-started and going the way I wanted it.
"It's a little disappointing I did get injured. Like I said, things happen for a reason. I'm where I'm supposed to be right now. I'm happy with the situation."
McKinney underwent surgery, but he stayed around the club as much as possible. Even for a veteran, getting to know new teammates and an organization is a process, and staying around meant McKinney could attend meetings and get the feel for his new surroundings.
McKinney says the year away from the fray allowed him to notice the action in a different way, making him "more of a student of the game. I didn't realize how much I knew about the game last year, watching on the sidelines, or talking to the young guys."
McKinney said he was not a vocal presence just because of his familiarity with the scheme. He allowed others to experience growth, and it is something he saw as the year unfolded.
"Going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 is hard. It's different," said McKinney. "From day one to the last game, it was a 180-degree turn, especially with the defensive line. I saw Rico (Ricardo Mathews) grow a lot. I saw Big Mook (Antonio Johnson) grow a lot. Those guys really came along.
"I thought Fili Moala really came along. The guys who came in during the season (Clifton Geathers, Lawrence Guy, Martin Tevaseu), they put in a lot of work in a short time and really improved. It's a pretty complicated defense. Sometimes I would chime in and give my two cents, but I just watched mostly."
McKinney complimented Pagano and defensive line coach Gary Emanuel for texting him frequently and making him feel a part of an exciting season. Wins were tough to miss. Losses had McKinney thinking he could have made a difference.
McKinney feels the defense will make strides in year two, finding a higher level of consistency.
He says he is working well in rehabilitation and expects no problems getting accustomed to the game again.
When fans get to know him better, he says they will see a player much closer to Redding's vocal style compared to the quiet nature of Johnson.
"(Laughs) I'm more towards Cory on the field," said McKinney. "We like to have fun. I played with Cory the last three years, and there have been times we fed off each other. We like to go out and have fun, that's a key to the game. Go out and enjoy the competition, enjoy the moment. Like last year, you never know what will happen.
"(Fans will see) a crazy man (laughs), someone who is hungry, determined and wants to win the Super Bowl and who doesn't have much time to get there. I'm going to be very adamant for us to be in the top five in run defenses in the league. I've been a part of that most of my career in San Diego and Baltimore, and I want to bring that here. That's one of my goals. If we do that, everything will take care of itself."