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Rex Ryan massages Joe McKnight’s ego

Joe McKnight carries the ball during the second

Joe McKnight carries the ball during the second half of a game against the Miami Dolphins. (Sept. 23, 2012) Credit: AP

Glancing down at the recorders in front of him for his daily media briefing on Thursday Jets coach Rex Ryan said, “See, the bad thing about these things is you can never say you were misquoted. That’s what’s terrible. Everything’s on the record.”

That much became clear on Wednesday when Ryan fumbled the handling of Joe McKnight’s move from running back to cornerback. McKnight later expressed his displeasure, saying he assumed it was because he’s not good enough to play running back. So, Ryan acknowledged his failure to communicate clearly that the move is based on the Jets’ need after losing cornerback Darrelle Revis to a season-ending injury and the coaching staff’s belief in McKnight’s athletic ability.

“I think Joe misunderstood,” Ryan said. “We’re trying to teach Joe our defense, the coverages and things like that. But he still has a role on offense. It’s not that he’s being forgotten as a running back. I want him to learn the coverages on defense because the way the league is now, you almost can’t have enough corners.”

With so many teams using formations with four and even five receivers, Ryan said, it’s imperative to be able to match up physically. “Joe can definitely match up,” Ryan said. “He can run; he’s got size; he’s got some natural instincts. When we used to put him on scout team, that’s what we saw. [On Wednesday], he actually picked off all three quarterbacks. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.”

Good for McKnight, bad for what it says about the Jets’ passing game. So, for the time being, McKnight will attend meetings with the secondary so he can learn the coverages. But since he has a good grasp of the offense, he still can be used in the limited role he was playing in the Wildcat offense.

Ryan acknowledged he likes the way Bilal Powell has performed as the backup to starting running back Shonn Greene. Powell isn’t just playing the third-down role. He’s alternating with Greene because he can run inside and out, and he’s a much better pass protector than McKnight.

But Ryan added that the move wasn’t intended to imply that McKnight’s not good enough to be an NFL running back. “That was certainly not the message I want to send to him,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t clear about that. He’s got talent as a running back. The one thing I know about Joe is, when given an opportunity, as a kick returner, he led the NFL. So, that’s pretty impressive.

“He was the No. 1 kid in the country coming out of high school, so, his talent is pretty special. I had a coach from USC tell me that, the day he walked on campus, he was their best corner. They wanted to play him at running back, but that would give you an indication of the kind of talent Joe has.”

Who knows? Maybe McKnight will find his true calling in football, and at the very least, he might provided needed depth in the Jets’ secondary.


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