With his second kickoff-return TD as a pro and with his average again inching upward toward 30.0 yards per return, Joe McKnight was asked this week how good he can be as an NFL return man.
“Devin Hester’s the best now. Hopefully I can have my name next to his or around his somewhere. That’d be great,” McKnight said. He went on to explain that when he was an eighth-grader in River Ridge, La., he already had some notion that he’d like to follow in Hester’s fast footsteps some day.
“I used to look up to him. He wore No. 4 and I wore No. 4,” Joe recalled. “I always wanted to go to the University of Miami. I was a big Clinton Portis fan and a big Devin Hester fan.”
Interesting that McKnight knew at that tender age that he wanted to be like a top UM return man and a top ‘Canes RB. The storyline a few weeks back was that he was being made into a (temporary) defensive back and that he thought Rex Ryan and the Jets were saying he might not be wanted as a back.
Not true, said Rex. For the time being, McKnight is back at RB and got his most plays (9) and touches (4) of the season on offense on Monday night. And he made like a superback on his 100-yard return down the left sideline to juice up the Jets and the fans for their close-but-no-cigar 23-17 loss.
In fact, ST coordinator Mike Westhoff is serious in saying that he thinks in terms of running the ball when he draws up those now famous kickoff returns of his.
“All of our plays are based off of running plays,” Westhoff said. “That’s what they look like and what they should look like, where we’re going to try to double and trap and wall and run a counter off of that. It’s very similar to what an offense would run on an off-tackle play. We blocked it well. We blocked it very well. And we hit it.”
Indeed, McKnight took the “handoff” from Houston kickoff man Shayne Graham at his goal line and proceeded to use his speed and cuts to get the Jets back in the game. First game the double team by his two-man wedge, Garrett McIntyre and Konrad Reuland, on the Texans’ Bryan Braman, with McIntyre then sliding up and taking out Troy Nolan. Downfield a little further, Nick Bellore and Bilal Powell applied the second double-team, boxing up Jesse Nading.
Simultaneously, to McKnight’s right, Ellis Lankster neutralized Shiloh Keo and new signee Lex Hilliard continued his impressive first night in green and white by delaying Mister Alexander’s outside rush toward the ball.
McKnight slalomed past through the “gate” opened by Reuland and Lankster, then exploded past the diving Alexander and stiff-armed Graham. Suddenly it was a footrace with rookie safety DeVier Posey. McKnight won, squeezing past Posey along the left sideline and curling the ball inside the pylon as he dived into the end zone.
“I felt like I had to make some plays. The first couple of games I was disappointed that I didn’t get to break anything,” he said. “But I didn’t want to try to press the issue and go out and look for stuff. I just had to be patient and wait till they came to me.”
And while he was waiting, he was making a few things happen elsewhere on teams. He also is a part of the Jets’ kickoff cover team that also features Lankster and ‘Zaiah Trufant as their advance team. It was No. 25 you saw blurring by on your TV screen, in part because of his speed and in part because of a shove in the back from Braman that started the Texans out at their 4-yard line late in the opening period.
McKnight’s always gives his blockers their props — “It’s a give-and-take,” he said. “You give me something, I give you something.”
He means that literally. Last year he dished out an iPad and some high-end headphones. For this return, he said he’s planning on presenting a 50″ TV from a recent interview to either Reuland or Bellore.
And he wouldn’t mind continuing to play early Santa in the weeks ahead. Might the Colts’ cover team be in danger? They’re 25th in opponents’ kickoff-return average.
“We got some good double-teams this week,” he said, respectfully but confidently, “and next week we’re going to try to do the same.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Bilal Powell, Ellis Lankster, Garrett McIntyre, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, joe McKnight, Konrad Reuland, Mike Westhoff, Nick Bellore
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