Joe McKnight began the process of changing his storyline on Saturday night.
" 'Hard Knocks' got to me a little bit," McKnight, the fourth-round rookie, told newyorkjets.com right after the Saturday night game at Carolina. "I didn't watch the show that night [Wednesday], but I caught the rewind. I've got some more progress to make. I'll come in Monday, keep working hard. I don't want to be labeled as a scatback. I want to be labeled a running back."
Can he also be labeled the Jets' answer at punt returner? McKnight should get a good mention on this week's HBO episode after ripping off his 67-yard return — the second-longest by a Jet in any game since 2000 — in the fourth quarter against the Panthers. He showed his effortless athleticism as he ran through the Carolina coverage and flipped the Jets' field position, even if temporarily, from their 24 to the Panthers 9.
"I just got lucky," McKnight downplayed his part in the return. "All my blockers were in the right spot. All I had to do was run. They opened everything up for me."
One secret perhaps on that return and also on offense was an emphasis on being more aggressive. Although McKnight's second-half rushing totals (11 carries, 28 yards) didn't show it, he seemed to get a little more head of steam going as he honked it up in there between the tackles.
This may have been the result of consultations he had in the days leading up to the Panthers game. LaDainian Tomlinson told him "to attack the defense. You can't make a cut on everybody." And RBs coach Anthony Lynn offered similar advice wrapped up in different words.
"The main thing Coach Lynn told me is you've just got to commit to your cuts. If you do that, everything will be all right," McKnight said. "Just try to be a force, try to run hard and run strong."
It's all about NFL growth, and McKnight may be in the process of writing an uplifting story arc for one of the three remaining episodes of Hard Knocks and for the season beyond.
Here are the Jets' four punt returns of 60 or more yards in all 211 pre-, regular- and postseason games since 2000: