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McKnight in Line for Pepsi NFL Rookie Award

Posted Jan 4, 2011

After the Jets rode running back Joe McKnight to the tune of 32 carries and 158 yards in Sunday’s 38-7 win over the Buffalo Bills, the former Southern Cal standout has been nominated for the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week award. Fans can click here to vote for the top rookie for the Week 17 games.

McKnight was nursing his wounds on Monday night when he spoke at the "Inside the Jets" radio show at Grasshopper Off The Green in Morristown, N.J.

“I was very sore this morning,” McKnight said, “but I had to get through it and get up and go to work out and get in the training room.”

With LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene inactive in order to rest up for the wild-card weekend matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, McKnight was the only true tailback active on the Jets roster for the Bills. With fullbacks John Conner and Tony Richardson blocking in front of him, McKnight continually moved the chains and also racked up 198 all-purpose yards by adding two receptions and a long punt return.

The young, athletic back knew the Jets’ starters would be out and was challenged by head coach Rex Ryan before the game.

“I wasn’t surprised, I just had to be ready,” McKnight said. “It was the last game of the season and Coach Ryan said everyone should expect to play. So when he called my name I was ready. He told me, 'Expect to carry the ball 40 times, but I’m not looking to see that, I’m looking to see you play special teams.' ”

ST coordinator Mike Westhoff certainly doesn’t let up, so McKnight could be seen all over the field, from punt coverage to punt return. The most taxing part of his day, however, was clearly the number of carries that he racked up. Tomlinson and Greene only averaged 14.6 and 12.3 carries per game respectively this season, so for McKnight to amass the number of carries that he did in one day was quite a feat.

“That was a new experience,” McKnight said. “That never happened. In high school I was getting seven carries a game, college I was getting about 10. Thirty-two? That was a lot.”

The fourth-rounder from River Ridge, La., was buried on the depth chart early in the season, but as the season moved along he has learned from Richardson and Tomlinson throughout the season. When he walked into the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center this offseason, he didn’t expect that a few months later he would be having a career day. RBs coach Anthony Lynn, however, told him that Ryan and the coaching staff would be looking for him to produce later in the season.

“I didn’t envision that,” McKnight said. “I envisioned me playing special teams my first year because of LT and Shonn and their experience. Coach Lynn always told me, 'Stay ready. He’s going to call on you later on in the year or in the playoffs.' That’s a good thing, knowing that they’re looking at you later on down the line.”

Growing up outside of New Orleans, McKnight’s high school team, John Curtis Christian, was rivals with the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, which happens to be the high school that Peyton Manning attended. Throughout his life he’s heard stories about Manning’s prowess, and after Sunday’s performance, McKnight may have a chance to be a factor for the Jets against the Colts on Saturday night in the first round of the playoffs.

After proving he could handle a starting role vs. the Bills, he hopes he’ll get more opportunities in the postseason.

“It felt good to be around Braylon [Edwards] and Santonio [Holmes],” McKnight said. “I just tried to go out there and show them that I could be on the field with them, too.”

McKnight against Buffalo set the franchise rookie record for most rushing attempts in a game and his rushing yardage is third-most in a game by a first-year player in franchise history (*playoff game):

Rookie Date Opp Yards
1. Matt Snell 10.17.64 HOU 180
2. Matt Snell 10.10.64 OAK 164
3. Joe McKnight 1.02.11 BUF 158
4. Shonn Greene 10.25.09 @oak 144
5. Shonn Greene 1.09.10 @cin* 135
Rookie Date Opp Atts
1. Joe McKnight 1.02.11 BUF 32
2. Matt Snell 10.17.64 HOU 31
3. Cedric Houston 12.11.05 OAK 28
4. Clark Gaines 11.14.76 TB 27
5. Matt Snell 10.10.64 OAK 26

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