by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
New England drafted Tyrone McKenzie in the third round, looking to add youth and depth to the linebacker corps. The South Florida grad (who also played at Michigan State and Iowa State) ended up missing the season due to a knee injury sustained in rookie camp last spring.
Despite that setback – or maybe because of it – McKenzie sounded excited about getting back on the field to show what he can do. After only a few minutes talking to PD, it became easy to see why Coach Bill Belichick spoke so highly of him. Judging by McKenzie’s answers, it seems that the young man has been listening to his coach – both on and off the field.
I think the question on everyone’s mind is: how are you feeling? And how’s it been the last few months?
Oh, I’m feeling great. Feeling great. The last few months have been great. I mean, I just keep making strides to get where I want to be to get a chance to get back on that field, you know, to get out there with my teammates.
Where have you been since the injury? Did you stick around Foxboro for a while or did you go home after a little bit?
Oh, I stayed up there in Foxboro. I didn’t go anywhere. You know, that was the best place for me because we have such a great pro training staff. And going into the weight room staff, Harold Nash and Mike Woicik, along with (the staff) in the training room… So, I mean, I stayed around there, had surgery with Dr. (Thomas) Gill, one of the best in the nation, and then went off into training and rehab with the best training staff and recovery staff in the nation.
And have you been at Foxboro the whole time?
Yeah, I stayed in Foxboro the entire time, just stayed up there all through the season. Meetings, learning the defense, and just getting acclimated to the way things are run during the season.
How far ahead do you think you’ll be (at) this coming camp as opposed to last year?
Oh, yeah, it helped me out huge, just to be around the facility and being in meeting rooms and (being) with the guys, and just getting ready for a game every week. Every week I sat there and prepared myself as if I was going to play in a game. I mean, I didn’t get a chance to play, obviously, because of my injury, but I just got myself together and learned everything, week-by-week, to get ready for the season.
Are there any particular players that you talked to?
I talked to all the guys. You know, I talked to all the guys. All the guys in veteran leadership have done a great job with the younger class, the rookie class from last year when we came in. Just showing us the way things are run over there. The coaches have done a great job. You know, that’s one thing that they make clear when you first get there: they show you how they want it done, and you do your best to get it done. And that’s what we all do.
I’ve been interviewing a lot of NFL prospects. What was that process like for you?
The process was long. I mean, it was a long process. I had a lot of fun, meeting with different teams, and getting a chance to play at the Senior Bowl, and starting at the Senior Bowl, and going to the combine. And getting a chance to meet with teams and doing what I got to do. You know, it was tough when I went to the combine. I hurt my hamstring, so I didn’t get a chance to do any of the running events. I hurt my hamstring running the 40, and that lingered on going into pro day, when I hurt my hamstring again at pro day. So that was the toughest part for me because I trained so hard in getting ready for it. I never got a chance to put my best foot forward.
What do you think your optimal 40 time was?
Oh, I was running – I could run high 4.5s all day, so high 4.5s was the optimal time I was shooting for. I was in medium 4.5s… 4.55, 4.56, that range.
Do you think – now that you’ve had a year of NFL coaching under your belt, how important is the 40 time to your position?
I mean, I’m not scouting anybody, not recruiting anybody, so, every team looks at things differently. Then again, you know, tape doesn’t lie. A player’s a player, and that’s what it comes down to: somebody that’s fired up, logging in his time, and playing football.
Yeah, how important is it, in terms of preparation, for how you play? Because it seems like there are a lot of players who might have a lot of athleticism but just aren’t quite sure where to be at the right time?
Oh, geez, I mean, that’s huge. That’s what I said before… about playing football. There’s players, and there’s number guys, and a lot of success comes in the NFL from guys who want to lead by just doing as well as they can, getting better each day, and just keep going. That’s something I’m trying to do.
Was it a surprise when you were drafted by the Patriots?
No, it wasn’t a surprise. I always wanted the Patriots to draft me when I was in that process, so when I got that phone call I was just excited to be here.
What set New England apart?
Oh, you know, every team’s different… But, you know, the Patriots – just like every other team in the league – they do such a great job getting ready to prepare, to win each week, and that helps the win columns.
Now, coming out of high school, you, like a lot of other linebackers I’ve talked to, were a very good running back. Why the switch to defense?
Well, when I went to college, I was a running-back-slash-linebacker. I decided to play linebacker instead of running back because I just wanted to give hits instead of taking them. Running back is great and all, but I felt like I could succeed at linebacker.
Do you feel like there’s a different mentality to linebacker than running back?
There is. You’ve got to lead the defense. At linebacker, you’ve got to be a leader: you’ve got to lead by example and be a vocal leader. You’ve got to know the defense. You’re the quarterback of the defense in some aspect.
Do you feel like, at running back you maybe don’t need to know as much about the offense as a linebacker needs to know about the defense?
Oh, I can’t answer that question, because I played running back in high school, and there’s a major difference between a running back in high school and in the NFL.
So, when is your first day of practice?
I don’t know the first day of mini-camps. You know, I’m just worried about getting ready for tomorrow, and just going out there and keep going through the steps to get better each day.
And what types of things are you doing for training now?
You know, I’m just like every other guy around the league. Just ready to go at it, 110 percent. Go at it during the off-season and just work hard getting ready for the season. So, you know, going from strength, to speed, to agility, you’ve got to look at every aspect to get better at it. You can’t ever just feel like you’re better at one thing so, “I’m going to stop doing something.” You’ve got to perfect every aspect of your game.
This is kind of a difficult question, but I’m curious if at any point someone from the Patriots came to you and asked that you – that you’re maybe a little, let’s say, reclusive in terms of talking about your injury. Is that true? Or can you answer that?
My injury from last year? Is that the injury you’re talking about?
Yeah, you know, I’m leaving that in the past. What happened in the past, happened in the past. I’m looking to the future. This is a whole other year. I’m putting the past behind me. I’m just looking forward to this season, ready for the future.
I’ve heard this type of thing, where a rookie gets injured early, being like a redshirt year. Does that make any sense to you?
Yeah, I mean, going back to college, when you redshirt, you just try and learn everything you can and just be there mentally, even though you can’t be there physically. So, I think it’s about the same thing.
What kind of defense did you play in South Florida?
We ran a 4-3. I played Mike, Will and Sam. I played all three positions throughout the season, so I’m pretty versatile.
And in a 3-4, are you still a Mike?
You know, right now I’m just worried about being there, going out there and performing.
So you’re not exactly sure where you would play, or you just maybe don’t want to share that?
Don’t want to share.
There you go.
I just want to go out there. You know, Coach might have me playing one position – I’m not the coach, I’m just a player.
Well, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your college experience. How beneficial was it to play in a few different systems in college? Do you think that helped you learn about defenses overall?
Yeah, it did. Being around different coaches in college helped me appreciate how coaches coach differently and so forth. It was huge for me, and I got a chance to get my hand in a little bit of everything. So it was a great opportunity. I had fun, and now I’m just looking toward the future.
(During) your first couple of days last year, what did you notice about differences in playing? Was there a big difference in speed or in difficulty of the defenses, or do you think you fit right in?
I feel that I’m just getting ready for the everyday, to go out there and compete. I mean, in this aspect of the game, I’m confident in my playing ability and I know I can fit in. Last year, in just the few days I got to practice, it was great. A great opportunity for me, going out there and just playing a bunch of guys that all have the same mentality… It’s huge, and I’m just excited for it.
One thing that really caught fans’ eyes was, in the press conference talking about drafting you, Coach Belichick talked about you in very high regard. Was that a pleasant surprise for you, or is that something where you felt those positive vibes when you had talked to the Patriots?
Oh, you know, Coach Belichick’s angle was huge. He made me feel welcome coming to the organization. I’ve got to just go out there and show the Patriots that they made the right choice by drafting me. So that’s why I’ve got to go out there, get better each day, train hard, and practice hard on the field.
Tyrone, I’m going to tell you, I think you’re going to be in New England for a long time.
(Laughs.) Thanks. Thanks.
Thanks a lot for talking to us today, and we wish you a lot of luck this year.
All right, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org