Joe McKnight's first two seasons in the NFL had their share of ups and downs.
There were prolific moments such as last year's season opener against the Dallas Cowboys when he blocked a critical punt by Mat McBriar in the Jets' 27-24 comeback win, and some not-so-memorable ones like when he lost three fumbles in the preseason of his rookie campaign.
But now in year three, McKnight believes he has benefited from both the good and the struggle.
"I've matured a lot," McKnight said after practice this afternoon. "I'm applying myself to my work and everything. I'm just feeling more comfortable playing ball now. I'm not everywhere trying to figure out everything. I know a lot of stuff now. I'm just relaxed now and I just go out there and play."
The 5"11', 215-pound running back suffered a hamstring injury during the Jets' preseason finale against Philadelphia. He led the Jets with 38 yards on nine carries in the game.
Asked if he was back to 100 percent, McKnight responded, "I'm getting there, I'm getting there. I'm just taking it a day at a time and trying not to hurt myself any more. But I'm getting there."
Despite the hamstring, he's still played in the Jets' first two games this season. In the opener against Buffalo, he was in for three of their 67 offensive snaps, while last week against Pittsburgh he only saw the field on one offensive play. On that lone play, however, he was productive, picking up a 12 yards after a handoff from Tim Tebow.
"I wasn't expecting anything," McKnight said of what he envisioned his role being in the Jets' first two games this season. "I just wanted to be on the field."
While the job of the River Ridge, La., native as the Jets third-down back now rest in the hands of second-year RB Bilal Powell, McKnight remains the Green & White's main kickoff returner.
His thought process before every kickoff never changes. He describes it this way: "High in tight, two hands in traffic, and score," he said.
Nearly a year has passed since he had the longest play in franchise history when he returned a kickoff 107 yards against the Baltimore Ravens last October. By the end of 2011, his 31.6-yard kickoff return average not only led the NFL but was the league's best in the past 25 years.
"It means a lot," McKnight said of the achievements. "It means that I have 10 other great guys on the field with me that are doing their job, and I can help them out by breaking big ones and scoring touchdowns. This year, I just want to help them out scoring touchdowns instead of breaking a big one. Just go ahead and score the touchdown, so we can be No. 1 in the league."
Along with kickoff returner and running back, the former USC Trojan also has recently practiced some at cornerback. He played the position throughout high school and didn't switch over to RB until his college coach, Pete Carroll, suggested the move.
"I always wanted to play cornerback," McKnight said. "I always looked up to Deion Sanders and always tried to do things like him. I know I probably can't do it, but I can try."
As the Jets gear up for their second road test of the season Sunday at Miami, head coach Rex Ryan said earlier this week he expects McKnight will play more than one offensive play in the game. That's an encouraging sign for No. 25. But whether lining up as a kick returner, running back or possibly even cornerback in the near future, McKnight's love for the game, which he began playing at the age of 4, only continues to deepen.
"I like them all," he said of his many positions. "I don't have any favorite. I just like when I'm on the field."