When Jets coach Rex Ryan told Joe McKnight that he’s been traded from the offense to the defense, McKnight took that as an indication that he’s not good enough as a running back.
Ryan says that was the wrong message for McKnight to get. Instead, Ryan thinks McKnight should take it as a compliment that the coaches think he has the talent to move to cornerback, even though he hasn’t played there since high school.
“I think Joe misunderstood,” Ryan told reporters today. “We’re trying to teach Joe our defense. The coverages and things like that. He still has a role on offense. It’s not that he’s being forgotten as a running back, that’s not the case. I want him to learn the coverages and things like that on defense. The way the league is now, you almost can’t have enough corners. They’re going three, four, five, receivers or something, so you have to be able to match up. The one thing I know from a physical standpoint, [is] that Joe can, from a talent and a physical standpoint, he can match up. He can run. He’s got size. He’s got some natural instincts, and that’s what we’ve seen. When we used to put him on scout team, that’s what we saw. Yesterday, he actually picked off all three quarterbacks. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.”
Ryan heard that McKnight took it as a criticism of his ability as a running back, and that he thinks he didn’t communicate well enough to McKnight.
“That was certainly not the message that I wanted to send to him, so I wasn’t clear on that,” Ryan said. “He’s got talent as a running back. The one thing I know about Joe is when given an opportunity, as a kick returner, he led the NFL as a kick returner, so I think that’s pretty impressive. He was the number one kid in the country coming out of high school. His talent is pretty special. I had a coach from USC tell me that the day he walked on campus he was their best corner. They wanted to play him at running back, but that’ll give you an indication of the kind of talent that Joe has.”
Ultimately, a player’s job is to play whatever position his coach tells him to play, and if Ryan thinks McKnight can help the Jets more as a cornerback than as a running back, then McKnight is a cornerback. McKnight shouldn’t have a problem with that.