Toward the end of the Jets’ 23-20 victory over the Lions, cornerback Marquice Cole felt his hamstring tighten up and ever since he’s been relegated to the stationary bike at the Green & White’s practices.
Cole had been an ace on the special teams unit, particularly in his role as a flyer on the punt coverage team. As a result, coordinator Mike Westhoff will turn to cornerback Drew Coleman and possibly to rookie running back Joe McKnight to pick up the production Sunday in Cleveland.
“We’ve been practicing since camp,” McKnight said. “Coach Westhoff said that every time we go into a special teams meeting, we’re not there just to sit in there, we’re there to learn. So while we’re sitting in there, we’re learning all the stuff that he’s going over with the players that are playing.”
Coleman already has been working as the other flyer, but because of his role as the nickel cornerback in past games, he hadn’t been as productive on specials as Cole, who has downed a number of Steve Weatherford’s punts inside the 20 and forced a number of fair catches. Now Coleman will have to be the one getting down the field to make plays.
“The main thing is getting in there and making tackles,” Coleman said. “Marquice has been doing a great job this year of getting down on kickoff coverage and punts and causing fair catches and changing over field position.”
Head coach Rex Ryan on Friday declared Cole out for the game against the Browns. The injury, while unfortunate, may give McKnight the opportunity he’s been looking for to crack the active roster for the second game this season.
“Joe is a fast guy. He’s worked very diligently in practice,” Westhoff said. “He’s improved since training camp tremendously and he deserves an opportunity. Sometimes a guy has to get hurt maybe to get an opportunity. That’s not someone else’s fault and Joe deserves one and we may be able to give him one.”
There has been a noticeable difference in the air with which McKnight walks through the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Over the summer he was often seen at the rookie lockers with headphones on. Now, he’s more likely to be laughing and joking with teammates before heading to team meetings. What appears to have been a mental change is actually something simpler.
“I wouldn’t say a different mentality,” McKnight said. “I’m just more comfortable with everything. I’m starting to fall into the flow with everything and it helps a lot to have LaDainian Tomlinson there to help me.”
LT’s impact can’t be understated in terms of the development of McKnight and second-year back Shonn Greene. The skills that McKnight has honed at running back have now helped earn him a role on the active roster as a flyer.
“Joe has been looking good at it,” Coleman said. “It’s something he’s been working at since he got here. The thing with Joe and that flyer is that as a running back you already know he’s shifty and quick and his change of direction is good.”
Those were the attributes that head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum saw in the former Trojan and River Ridge, La., native. For a player who was once the No. 1-rated high school prospect in the country and a featured storyline on HBO’s Hard Knocks, his professional debut didn’t go quite as planned. Now that he’s found some harmony, he’s worked incredibly hard to become an asset.
“Joe had an inauspicious debut, to say the least,” Westhoff said. “But since we’ve entered the season I’ve seen him improve in every single thing that he’s done. Now how it will play out on Sunday if he’s active, I don’t know, but he could have some of those roles to help.
“Joe may get an opportunity to do some things, and he deserves it.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Cleveland Browns, Drew Coleman, joe McKnight, Marquice Cole, Mike Westhoff, Rex Ryan
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