New York Jets rookie Joe McKnight stretches during rookie football...

New York Jets rookie Joe McKnight stretches during rookie football mini-camp. (April 30, 2010) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Call it a cruel twist of fate, a glancing blow to his brow that probably made him want to yell loudly enough to be heard thousands of miles away in Southern California.

Joe McKnight has spent the bulk of the last few years trying to shed Reggie Bush comparisons, doing his best to stiff-arm them and kick up a cloud of dust as he floors it in the other direction. So one can only imagine the running back's reaction when he strolled into the Jets' spacious locker room Thursday and peeked into his stall.

McKnight had been given No. 25, the very same number Bush wore at USC before donning it with the Saints.

"I was kind of mad at first, but that comes with the territory," McKnight said Friday after participating in his first practice at the Jets' three-day rookie minicamp. "After a while, I just let it go and just go with the flow."

"It wasn't my decision," the 5-11, 194-pounder added. "I thought I was trying to leave something, but evidently, I'm still back in the shadow again. I'm just going to wear the number and I'm not going to say anything about it. Just wear it and just try to be me."

McKnight didn't provide a ton of Bush-like highlight material in his first practice as a pro. He vomited early in drills, dropped a couple of easy passes and lost his balance after one catch, falling awkwardly on the grass field and getting up a little gimpy.

Both calves also cramped up on McKnight, who learned lesson No. 1: stay hydrated. Another lesson: don't tighten up when Rex Ryan is watching.

"I felt bad, a little dehydrated today," he said. "It was a lot of nerves. I was nervous at first, just getting back out there, and playing football, and trying to show what I can do in front of coach Ryan, and just got a little nerves going a little bit.

Ryan said: "The first thing we've got to do is settle him down a little bit . . . When you put the ball in his hands, today he was impressive. It was like, 'Whoa.' I'm like, 'You don't need to have six moves, just use four or five at this level.' He's got plenty of wiggle and lots of talent."

Few questioned the athletic McKnight's talent. It's his character and desire that fueled the skeptics and led to him falling to the fourth round. He wasn't known as a hard worker and he was a part of two investigations at USC regarding recruiting violations and improper benefits.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum went straight to quarterback Mark Sanchez for the lowdown on his former USC teammate, wanting to know more about what McKnight is truly like before drafting him.

"He just asked about his character, his work ethic what he was all about as a player," Sanchez said. "I told him he's explosive, he's one of those guys that can catch the ball and take it 90 yards - big-play potential. And I just told him that in this league, it would be great to have someone like that for the both of us."

Now that they're reunited, perhaps Sanchez can help McKnight forget about trailing in Bush's enormous shadow, though putting on that No. 25 jersey daily surely won't make it any easier.

"I get annoyed with it, but I'm over it," McKnight said. "That's all in the past. I'm just trying to focus on playing football for the Jets and helping them win."

Notes & quotes: Ryan admitted the Jets are interested in LB Adalius Thomas, who was released by the Patriots on Monday. But the Jets will wait until Thomas drops his asking price. Said Ryan: "If we get him, great. I'm not worried about him. He's not on our team."

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