Nobody’s issued a 100 percent ironclad official statement to the effect that sore-chested Antonio Cromartie will give his kickoff-return career a rest and focus on cornerback beginning Sunday night at Baltimore.
“I’m prepared to go a lot of ways,” special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said Thursday. And Rex Ryan offered his view of Cro continuing to return kicks with his bruised rib and lung: “No way … unless we need him.”
To all of that Joe McKnight said of Cromartie on returns, “I don’t think we need him. I’m good. I can do it.”
McKnight showed how ready he is with a 50-yard return with 2:37 to play that, under different circumstances, could have done for the Jets’ comeback effort at Oakland what Cromartie’s 47-yarder did for their wild-card comeback at Indianapolis last season.
“The ball bounced,” Westhoff said. “It was kind of hard to field. Joe was a little slow to get going because of the way the ball hit. But he did a real nice job. We blocked it very well but he ran it well.”
McKnight agreed with both premises.
“I’m trying to keep moving on, making progress off of every turn,” he said. “And I’ve got Westerman in front of me setting blocks, PT [Patrick Turner], I got Mully [Matt Mulligan] back there. They really make it easy for me.”
CBS’ end zone replay showed the beauty of how well the Jets blocked it and McKnight returned it. Nick Bellore, Mulligan and John Conner — the latter two linking hands as the Jets’ two-man wedge — mowed down three Raiders as McKnight veered right around them. Garrett McIntyre kicked his man out left and Westerman his guy right. McKnight angled back left through that gap and behind blocks from Kyle Wilson, Josh Mauga, Turner and Brodney Pool to get to the left sideline before he ran out of room.
The only player on the return team not in that shot was Marquice Cole, who was on the far right but also walled off his man off-camera.
Under Westhoff, of course, 50-yard-plus returns have become business as usual. But it is perhaps significant from a small sampling that since Brad Smith ran back the opening kickoff 97 yards at Pittsburgh in Week 15 last season, the Jets, except for two Cromartie 40-yarders, has been kind of average, with an average on the next 31 returns of 20.7 yards.
Then along came McKnight with the longest kickoff return of his pro career in any game, showing the Jets there is a direction they can go besides Cro.
McKnight still chuckles about his relationship with Westhoff, which started out rockily but has reached a stage of mutual respect.
“It’s tough, but he always wants you to be your best. That’s what I get out of it,” McKnight said. “It might make you mad, but he wants you to give your full effort. He wants your best from you.”
The 23-year-old second-year man from Southern Cal and River Ridge, La., wants the same from himself, it seems, because he’s eager but not anxious about getting his full NFL career, including a greater offensive role, off and running.
“I’m doing a way better job of everything, really,” he said. “I’ve just got to be patient and my time will come,” he said. “It’s still the beginning part of the season. We have a lot more games to play.”
As for the fourth game of the season at Baltimore’s loud and proud M&T Bank Stadium, it looks as if he’ll get his chance to expand on his kickoff curriculum vitae. The last word on the subject from Westhoff will have to suffice until tomorrow night.
“Joe’s taken almost all the reps in practice this week, and I’m probably more prepared to go that way,” the coach said. “But we’ll see Cro’s doing and go from there and make a decision.”
Heimerdinger Passes Away
Mike Heimerdinger, the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2005 as well as the coordinator for the Titans and Broncos, died Friday after a year-long battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 58. We offer our condolences to his immediate family and to his NFL family.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Baltimore Ravens, Brad Smith, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, Oakland Raiders, Rex Ryan
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