- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J.--Joe McKnight has been waiting for this opportunity all season.
The chance to play some meaningful snaps on offense, to showcase his talents out of the backfield. To atone for his training camp blunders.
For McKnight, Sunday’s season finale against Buffalo could finally be his moment to shine.
“I’m not going to worry about how many carries I get or how long I’m going to be in,” McKnight said. “I just want to go out there and play hard.”
After a long season abiding time on special teams, defense and even scout teams, with a limited role in the offense, McKnight is excited for the projected increased offensive workload that he will receive Sunday. Jets head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer both said they believe that the fourth-round pick from the University of Southern California will be more involved offensively against the Bills.
“I think he’s going to get a ton of playing time,” Ryan said. “I think he’s ready for it, so we’re going to find out. I expect him to play a lot.”
McKnight is not surprised that he’s had a very limited role in the offense up to this point after his disastrous preseason. He failed a conditioning test in training camp and his game results weren’t any better. In four games, he lost three fumbles, earning the scorn of Ryan and almost failing to make the active roster. McKnight said he wasn’t playing like a Jet.
While he was on the active roster, he was primarily riding the bench, which left an impression on him. He hated it. He had never had to sit back and watch others shine before. That had been a role reserved for him. He was getting a harsh taste of reality in his first season.
“You sit on the bench, I had to take the time out,” McKnight said. “Just check myself and see what I did wrong and just try to change it and correct it.
“I had never problems like that (fumbling) and once that happened, it was a real big thing for me and I got real down on myself. I had to just convince myself that I could do it.”
That bitter taste of failure motivated McKnight and he has since worked his way back to relevance on the team by helping the team out in several areas. He’s played on defense and scout teams in practice, and developed a role on special teams, even now earning himself a regular role on special teams coverage. He has eight total special teams tackles on the season.
He’s also had a brief chance on offense, rushing seven times for 31 yards and catching one pass for five yards. Sunday against Chicago, he returned three punts for 60 yards.
“Every coach has said Joe has probably been one of the hardest working rookies because he’s down scout team defense, he’s done offense, special teams,” Fullback Tony Richardson said. “I do think the stuff he’s been doing during practice has helped his process come along.”
With Sunday’s game against Buffalo not having much effect on the Jets postseason, and an opportunity to rest the starters before their Wild Card game, McKnight’s in line to get his first true shot in an NFL game. His previous two times where he carried the ball were both blowout games.
While McKnight doesn’t care about how many carries he gets, his offensive coordinator is looking forward to potentially seeing McKnight first prolonged action. Schottenheimer described McKnight as a player with a ton of natural ability who is great with the ball in his hands and can score on any play.
Said Schottenheimer: “I think when he gets his number dialed we’re all excited to see what he does.”