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Top pick McKinley an observer for Atlanta Falcons rookie minicamp
Atlanta Falcons’ Takkarist McKinley takes questions from the media during the team’s rookie minicamp in Flowery Branch on Friday. - photo by David Goldman

It is not in Takkarist McKinley’s nature to sit out of any football activity, so he said it was “very frustrating” to watch the first day of the Atlanta Falcons rookie minicamp from the sideline.

McKinley, the defensive end from UCLA who was the Falcons’ first-round pick in last month’s draft, had surgery in March to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. This was after playing with the injury for two years and completing 24 reps on the bench press at the NFL draft combine.

“Just tape me up and I’m ready to play,” McKinley said Friday of his approach to his last two seasons at UCLA.

The surgery has forced McKinley to practice patience instead of his pass-rush skills.

“I like competing, I like football,” he said, wearing his new No. 98 jersey. “I don’t like to be on the sideline just watching. I like to be with my brothers helping make plays.”

The Falcons expect McKinley to add balance to their pass rush with 2016 NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley.

The minicamp continues on Saturday. McKinley returns to UCLA on Sunday for the final month of spring quarter and more rehab. Until mid-June, he will study his new Falcons playbook in Los Angeles while using video chats to communicate with coaches.

“With the technology we have now, it’s like I’m here,” he said.

McKinley said Friday there is no timetable for his recovery. He said at the draft combine the process was expected to last four to six months. That schedule could make his status uncertain for the start of training camp in July.

Coach Dan Quinn said he expects McKinley will be ready for training camp.

McKinley and LSU linebacker Duke Riley were the Falcons’ first two draft picks. It was the third straight draft with Quinn as coach that the team emphasized defense with its first two picks.

The draft class also included a third defensive player, safety Damontae Kazee, a fifth-rounder from San Diego State.
Quinn’s record proves he intends to make immediate use of the rookies. The Falcons started five rookies, including four on defense, late in their 2016 Super Bowl season.

“That’s the good thing about this team,” Riley said. “I know they play rookies.”

That emphasis on rebuilding the defense means the 2017 rookies will join a unit that already is young. In addition to the rookies, there were four second-year starters last season, including Beasley.

Even McKinley, the No. 26 overall pick, knows he has no guarantees on a starting job.

“The defense has a lot of talent,” McKinley said. “I’m here to just help and add as much as I can. Whether that’s coming in on third down or second down or whatever they want me to do. I’m just here to help get the defense off the field as soon as possible.”

McKinley (6-2, 250) had 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss for UCLA in 2016. He was emotional at the draft as he carried a large framed photo of his late grandmother with him onto the stage.

He knows high expectations come with being a first-round pick.

“For me, everything is earned. I don’t want the job handed to me,” he said. “… Nothing in life has ever been handed to me so I’m OK competing and if I don’t get that job, I don’t win that job. Just know I’m going to work to get that job.”

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