Jets’ Joe McKnight looking to establish himself in NFL

Joe McKnight is out to prove he can be more than a special teams player in the NFL. Credit: Getty Images
Joe McKnight is out to prove he can be more than a special teams player in the NFL.
Credit: Getty Images

After three years in the NFL as mostly a niche player, the best athlete on the Jets roster is out to prove he is a specialist no more – but not just by focusing on one position. Instead, Joe McKnight is out to prove that he can excel at them all.

This fourth year is a pivotal one for McKnight, who has earned a reputation as a special-teams maven while getting some limited snaps at running back the past three years. But for McKnight, who even played one game last year at cornerback when injuries decimated the Jets’ back end, this season is about showing he can bring value all over the field. At a point in his career when most players embrace specializing on one position, McKnight continues to embrace his versatility.

Despite his ability to play all over the field, he wants to be known first and foremost as a running back.

With Shonn Greene leaving the Jets via free agency earlier this offseason, there is no clear-cut starting running back to take most of the carries. The arrest of fellow running back Mike Goodson three weeks ago on drug possession and weapon charges, there is an opportunity for McKnight to earn more carries ahead of this week’s minicamp.

“Every day is a new tomorrow to go out there and prove myself. But I just want to make the team better, make myself better,” McKnight said. “If I do that, everything else will take care of itself. No matter the other circumstances or anything else. I have to focus on getting better every day.”

This offseason, McKnight worked on his carryover speed as he felt that he was good at being elusive and getting into the open field but couldn’t finish his runs, losing his strength as he ran down the field and failing to turn big runs into touchdowns. The potential is there for him to be a home run hitter for the Jets.

McKnight has yet to register a rushing or receiving touchdown in the NFL. That might change this year as the Jets have shifted from the “ground and pound” to an offense that seems tailor-made for him.

He possesses the kind of speed, shiftiness, footwork and hands that could make him perfect for Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast offense. It is an offense McKnight knows well from his college days at USC.

In the West Coast offense, the running back needs to be versatile, which just happens to be McKnight’s middle name. Generally speaking, the West Coast offense calls for timing routes and short passes to systematically open things down the field for the deep pass or out patterns. McKnight’s skillset slides perfectly into what the running back is called to do in the offense.

He now needs to turn his fourth year in the NFL into one where he establishes himself as a key contributor and not just an intriguing athlete.

It is McKnight’s broad skillset that might keep him from being looked at as an every down back in the NFL. But the Jets’ “jack of all trades” doesn’t see his status as the athlete of the team hurting his value on the roster.

“I feel like the more the better. Being the best I can be is a good thing. Whatever coach wants from me, I will do it. If I can make this team [better] by helping out all over, then that is the best way to help the team,” McKnight said. “Versatility on a 53-man roster is never a bad thing and if I can help doing this, doing that — offense or special teams or defense — then I’ll do it.”

Jets notes …

» Jets have invited veteran free agent tight end Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker and defensive lineman Leger Douzable to minicamp this week.

» In addition, undrafted rookie free agent tackle Mark Jackson and cornerback Mason Robinson have been invited to minicamp on a tryout basis. Robinson played at Rutgers and was a standout at rookie minicamp in May.

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer. He will be live tweeting with updates and photos from minicamp all week.


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