MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said Wednesday that the coaches "really had no choice" but to release former Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie because he was out of shape.
The Vikings made the surprising move on Tuesday afternoon, and several prominent players spoke up in support of head coach Leslie Frazier after practice on Wednesday. McKinnie reported to training camp on Sunday out of shape and overweight and did not participate in the first two practices before being cut.
The decision served as a message to the rest of the team that Frazier would not take the summer-long lockout as an excuse for not being prepared for the season.
"We all understood, everyone as professionals, that all we had to do is come in and come in shape," Winfield said after the first practice of the day. "Coaches really had no choice but to do what they did."
Steve Hutchinson played alongside McKinnie for five seasons on the left side of the Vikings offensive line. The captain of the offense called McKinnie's situation "disappointing," but said the team did it in part to prevent McKinnie from any serious injuries or health issues.
"It's disappointing for him, because I know he wanted to be on this football team," Hutchinson said. "I know he wanted to play left tackle for this football team. But like I said earlier, you have to do what's in the best interest of your health."
Now the Vikings plan to start Charlie Johnson at left tackle to protect Donovan McNabb's blind side. Johnson just signed on Monday and said he has a lot of catching up to do. He's had to watch the first three days of practice because his contract will not kick in until the new collective bargaining agreement goes into effect, possibly as soon as Thursday.
"They've kind of said come tomorrow I'm going to be thrown out in the fire a little bit," Johnson said. "I've had the three days to go over the playbook and stuff. When tomorrow comes, it's trial by fire. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to it. It's a new experience, but something you have to be excited about."
Several Vikings were left shaking their heads at McKinnie, who played in every game since he signed his rookie contract midway through the 2002 season. He struggled with his weight toward the end of 2010, but vowed to work hard in the offseason to get into better shape.
Then he showed up to Mankato heavier than he's ever been, and Frazier promptly placed him on the non-football injury list before cutting him Tuesday afternoon.
"My philosophy, this is my job. This is my livelihood," defensive end Jared Allen said. "You've got to assume the lockout is going to be done at some point, so it's your job to stay in shape. Everybody can find a gym."
In a telling sign of the organization's frustration with McKinnie, they immediately gave his No. 74 jersey, which he has worn for the past nine seasons, to Johnson.
"Guys unfortunately come and go, and you're so used to seeing No. 74 being worn by a very big man for five years," Hutchinson said. "Now it's a different face wearing that jersey. It's a little awkward."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press