Months after throwing up during rookie camp and failing his conditioning run before training camp, Joe McKnight is now being lauded for his athleticism and his ability to play both sides of the ball. (No, seriously.)
Rex Ryan praised the rookie running back, who played in his first NFL game Sunday against Buffalo, for his versatility, speed and athleticism.
“I think we all saw what we were seeing on special teams. He was flying down the field, first guy down on a kickoff, almost blocked a punt. We’ve been seeing that kind of effort and that kind of improvement on the practice field," the coach said of McKnight, who carried the ball four times for 12 yards and briefly played on special teams vs. the Bills.
"I tell ya, one thing you can’t take away from this man – there are two things, really. Number one is, his obvious athleticism. He’s about as good an athlete as your going to find out there. And what I’ve been really impressed with is his enthusiasm. Since the season started, you really see that kind of enthusiasm on the practice field, whether it’s on the scout team playing corner, whether it’s playing running back or being on the special teams. …There’s a reason we took him. This guy’s a big time athlete. It’s just going to be a matter of time. And the great thing is, who knows, maybe he’ll play both ways.”
"I think he could play corner," Ryan added, when asked about McKnight's defensive skillset. "I don’t think there’s any doubt when you see him. [Defensive backs coach] Dennis Thurman, I think, would love to have that opportunity to coach him. I was told when we took his out of [USC], I had a coach tell me he was the best receiver and the best corner on their campus the day he showed up. So he’s got that kind of athleticism."
Would Rex Ryan seriously consider putting Joe McKnight in at corner if need be?
“Why not? It’s been done," the coach said. "Guys can play both ways. ...It’s been done. But we’re pretty set now at corner."
Ryan said he's not sure if keeping McKnight, a fourth-round draft pick, inactive for the first three games prompted the youngster's attitude change and his approach to the game and preparation. But the coach is relieved to see the transformation taking shape.
“It’s tough to watch, there’s no question," said Ryan. "It’s like a high school kid going to a college, being recruited – ‘you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread’ – and then you get there and you’re not even dressing or not playing. That’s tough on any competitor. So maybe it was. But I can say this, he’s the guy that had to make himself a better player. And his enthusiasm when he hits the pracice field has been different. I don’t know why that is.”