Joe McKnight came into training camp expressing his desire to have a bigger a role on the Jets’ brand-new offense. But the third-year running back clearly has fallen down the depth chart, while Bilal Powell is trending upward.
Before Thursday’s practice, Ryan raved about Powell, the second-year running back out of Louisville. At just 5-10, he's shown he can be a pint-sized bruiser on blocks, the coach said , in addition to being a dependable running back and receiver.
When I asked Ryan if Powell was his No. 2 running back, he hesitated a bit.
“They’re both – I mean, him and Joe McKnight both,” he said. “I think Joe’s got a little bit of a hamstring issue. He did practice yesterday so we’re hoping to get him back. I think it depends. Both of those guys will play for us. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut No. 2 guy though.”
While Powell has shined in training camp, McKnight has struggled to claim the outright spot behind feature back Shonn Greene.
McKnight, a USC product drafted in the fourth round, had an eventful offseason when it came to everything but football. During training camp, he said he got food poisoning at Applebees, got into a practice brawl with (now ex-teammate) D’Anton Lynn, suffered a stinger, had ongoing issues with shin splints and now is nursing a hamstring injury. Oh, and the L.A. Times reported Saturday that McKnight allegedly received perks worth thousands of dollars during his time at USC.
As far as his performance in preseason games, McKnight didn’t have any carries in the third (and most important) game against Carolina. Instead, he was used strictly on kickoff returns (three for 98 yards, the longest of which was 42). McKnight compiled 19 carries for 73 yards total in the other three exhibition games -- the longest of those carries was 18 yards, which came against the Eagles.
After seeing very little action in 2011, Powell – who had just 13 carries in Week 11 and 14 – has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates this season.
“He’s got skills to be a guy that’s effective as a runner, as a pass protector and a receiver,” Ryan said of the running back, who finished the preseason with 92 yards on 26 carries. “That’s why we drafted him. When he came out of Louisville, Anthony Lynn – who, obviously is a great teacher, great running backs coach – but he’s also a great evaluator. And he was really high on Powell.
“The rookie year, he struggled. But he was sharp. He’s sharp mentally, he can do those things. And it’s just giving him an opportunity. And I think he looks slimmer to me. But man, I love the way he protects, he puts his face in there in that protection. He’s a very aggressive blocker and that’s what you have to be to pick up these linebackers blitzing and things like that. So I’m really happy with where he’s at.”
When the Jets drafted Powell 126th overall in the fourth round, they anticipated him sliding into LaDainian Tomlinson’s third-down role.
“We thought that he could be a replacement for LT,” said Ryan, who added that Powell was “as sharp as anybody we had in the room,” including last season. “If LT never came back, then that was a role he could play.”