It was only four years ago that the Jets were the top rushing team in the NFL, a feat they would like to come close to matching this coming season with a revamped offensive line and the installation of coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's run-friendly West Coast offense.
Fourth-year man Joe McKnight is hopeful that he will be joining the Jets' backs behind the line of scrimmage, looking to build on a 2012 season where he totaled a career-low 29 rushing attempts for 176 yards.
"I feel like I fit right in there. We just have to wait until the end of camp to see where I stand," McKnight said. "I'm just going to keep working hard every day to show the coaches that I can make plays."
The USC product saw increased time with the first-team offense during today's SUNY Cortland practice, lining up behind fellow Trojan and former teammate Mark Sanchez who rotated back to the first offense after a few days running with the twos. The Jets are hoping that McKnight can be an effective weapon in the passing game, a role he filled successfully during his three-year career under current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll while enrolled at Southern Cal.
"I caught a couple passes here, not as many as I did at USC," he said, "but that's one of the things that I can do more of and I can continue to become more of a master of that trade out of the backfield."
McKnight has found increasing success in the return game, specifically on kickoffs where last season he averaged 27.5 yards per return, third-best in the NFL. Kick returning has allowed McKnight to display his proficiency as a ballcarrier and his impressive ability reading the field.
"Yeah, that's one of the strongest parts of my game. The more things I can do the better, and that's one of the things I do very well," he said. "Lately I've been working on punt returning, I'm trying to add more things to my game."
This season will mark the first that McKnight will not be mentored by legendary special teams coach Mike Westhoff, replaced after over three decades as an NFL coach and 12 as the Jets' special teams coach by Ben Kotwica. If they were to ever build a Mount Rushmore dedicated to special teams coaches, Westhoff would almost certainly be included amongst the quartet, so his departure after so many years risked leaving a cavernous void at the position. However, McKnight assures us, the special teams unit hasn't missed a beat since Kotwica has taken over.
"It's the same thing," he said. "Ben's been under Mike Westhoff since he got here so there is nothing different." McKnight has struggled with cramping and dehydration issues in the past but assured the surrounding media today that he has "never felt better." Good news for the Jets, who will need the 25-year-old to take on more responsibility both in the offense and in the return game.