McKnight makes most of opportunity

1/3/2011 - NFL Joe McKnight New York Jets + more

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Joe McKnight said it would have been tough to make it through his rocky start with the Jets if it hadn't been for LaDainian Tomlinson. The veteran running back told the rookie it hadn't been easy for him, either. McKnight kept seeking out Tomlinson, even if it was annoying, but the advice and encouragement kept him going.

"I had my ups and downs," McKnight said. "But I keep saying LT was there to help me out through everything. If I can get it changed I hope I can have a career like his."

On Saturday night, Jets coach Rex Ryan took McKnight aside and told him he'd be carrying the ball 40 times, but that wasn't as important as the way he was expected to play on special teams. It seemed a task as large as running a marathon, but McKnight didn't complain.

"I couldn't say anything -- I just had to go do it," McKnight said.

And he did, surprising even the coaches who put him out there. He had 32 carries and 158 yards in the Jets' 38-7 win over the visiting Bills.

"He was running and running and there he is covering kicks and things," said Ryan.

McKnight did not have an easy start with the Jets. During the rookie minicamp, the USC player had difficulty keeping up. He vomited on the sideline, and at other times, had to have wet towels applied to his head and neck by trainers.

McKnight was drafted on the day well-regarded Jets running back Leon Washington, was traded to Seattle while still healing from a compound fracture in his leg. McKnight continued to struggle during training camp, yet Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and Ryan opted to cut running back Danny Woodhead early in the season to make room for a wide receiver on the roster.

Woodhead was picked up by the Patriots and has had an outstanding season in New England.

"It takes some guys time," Ryan said of McKnight's development. "I understand that Leon Washington struggled, too, when he was younger. That happens with backs. He got with [running backs coach Anthony Lynn] and humbled himself. He played defense and did all of this other stuff.

"He's a good football player. Now you see why we were so excited to draft him. He just needed an opportunity and we saw the kind of talent he was."

The Bills weren't a formidable opponent on Sunday. There was a bit of a preseason game atmosphere with the way Ryan opted to rest starters, and McKnight realizes it isn't the final determination on whether getting and keeping him was a good decision.

"I feel like I still have more to do," McKnight said. "This was just one game."

He said he would have to wait until Monday to see how he felt, but all the bruises and cuts on his skin burned in the postgame shower. Does he expect to touch the ball 32 times against Indianapolis?

"No," McKnight said, maybe a little more emphatically than he intended. "LT and Shonn are going to be back."

Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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