Chiefs offensive tackle Ryan McKee thought he was through with football. After spending three years on practice squads with the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, it was time to get on with the rest of his life.
He tried the business world for a year. He spent last season as a graduate assistant at North Carolina. But McKee still felt unfulfilled.
So two years removed from being on an NFL team, McKee, 27, is giving it one more shot, and he’s in the mix as a swing tackle, playing both sides of the line with the second unit.
“It’s been a whole year of growth for me,” said the red-bearded McKee. “When I got released the last time, it was kind of an emotional decision. I said ‘I’m going to hang up the cleats and join the work force and find a job.’ It didn’t work out, and I looked toward coaching, which is the opposite of what I was going to do.
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“I got back in football … I felt a little hungry to get back in. I grew so much as a person … and gaining more knowledge of the game being a coach, I felt I’m going to give this another go.”
McKee, a 6-foot-6, 308 pounder, went undrafted after playing at Southern Mississippi, where he started 40 consecutive games at right tackle and helped the Golden Eagles to three consecutive bowl games. His college head coach, Larry Fedora, had moved on to North Carolina and gave McKee the opportunity help coach the Tar Heels’ offensive line.
Coaching at North Carolina lit the competitive fire to play again, squad. McKee believes he’s now better equipped to make a 53-man roster than ever before.
“Being away from it, I realized there were certain things I wasn’t doing to take advantage of the opportunity I had (with the Jets and Rams),” he said. “I got comfortable being a practice squad player. There wasn’t a fire to excel there. … I kind of settled a little bit …
“While coaching, you learn a lot more attention to details. You see the Xs and Os in a completely different light. You’re constantly evaluating technique on the players you’re coaching … so taking that to where I’m playing now, I see the corrections the coaches are making and I know what it’s like to make the correction. I have a sense of urgency now.”
McKee signed with the Chiefs last May and spent the off-season program shaking off the rust from not playing for two years. In last Thursday night’s preseason game against Cincinnati, he saw action on 24 plays, playing right tackle in the second quarter and left tackle in the third.
“He’s a guy we wanted to bring to camp to give him an opportunity,” said offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. “He’s making the most of that opportunity, and he’s worked himself into a good position, another smart guy up front … a tough guy, physical guy. Hopefully, we see in these next couple games what he can do.”
McKee is especially looking forward to this Sunday’s game at Carolina because he’ll be able to see his wife, Laura, and four-and-a-half week son, Isaac, who are still in Chapel Hill waiting to see if he sticks with the Chiefs.
“I’ve been away from her and him, and I’m excited to see him and how much he’s grown,” McKee said. “It will be a homecoming for me.”