Joe McKnight, the USC running back the Jets drafted in the fourth round, is working this summer to overcame the bad first impression he made when he showed up out of shape for the team's rookie mini-camp. McKnight was slowed in practices by vomiting, dehydration and leg cramps and was criticized for not working hard.

"I went home and worked on my cardio -- I did a lot of core training and running to get my wind back, " McKnight told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "It's helped me because a lot of papers described me as lazy and not hard-working. I'm still changing that perception of me."

According to J.T. Curtis, who was McKnight's guardian and high school coach during his junior and senior high school seasons in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the player's performance in mini-camp might have resulted from a case of nerves. "I don't think it was his conditioning as much as his excitement to be there, " Curtis said. "When Joe gets juiced up, he gets a terribly weak stomach ... Joe will be in top condition at training camp. There are no concerns there."

McKnight left USC after his junior season and seems ticketed for a lesser role behind starting running back Shonn Greene and veteran free agent LaDainian Tomlinson, who signed with the Jets after 10 years in San Diego. Already McKnight is looking at Tomlinson as something of a mentor.

"[Tomlinson] is like my big brother I never had, " McKnight told the Times-Picayune. "He's teaching me all the things he's learned -- how to be professional about everything, take care of your body and be a good person in life."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Although the 5-11, 194-pound McKnight totaled 2,213 yards rushing at USC, he most likely will be used as more of a third-down back in situations similar to what the departed Leon Washington handled, and he might return punts and kickoffs as well. McKnight is not considered an inside power runner, and he has a history of fumbling. But if you get him outside with room to run, he's very effective.

As Curtis said, "He can play on the perimeter ... and be great on end-arounds as a receiver."