KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Running back Joe McKnight may have landed in the best spot with Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who has been affectionately called the “coach of second chances” by Chad Lewis, one of Reid’s former players.
McKnight, a fourth-round pick (112th overall) out of Southern California with the New York Jets in 2010, sat out of football last season after the Jets cut ties with him on Aug. 26.
McKnight’s surprise release came on the heels of a tumultuous offseason, which included an arrest in New Jersey for outstanding traffic violations and reportedly failing a conditioning test.
But despite McKnight’s past issues in New York, Reid appeared confident the correct decision was made in signing McKnight to a reserve/future deal on Jan. 10.
“Whatever happened, happened,” Reid said during Thursday’s organized team activities (OTAs) media session. “He’s sure doing a nice job here right now. We’re excited about that. We did our homework on it and felt comfortable bringing him here.”
Reid said Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy was familiar with McKnight and “felt strong about bringing him” to Kansas City, as did general manager John Dorsey.
For his part, McKnight said he’s also happy to work with Bieniemy and learn from Reid.
“It’s a great place to be with a coach I knew for a long time in coach E.B. (Bieniemy),” McKnight said, “and coming along with coach Andy Reid to teach me new stuff.”
Meanwhile, the season away from the game he loves caused a self-assessment.
“It certainly did,” McKnight said when asked if being released humbled him. “Watching everybody play, watching people that I played against and played with still in the game of football, I’m just sitting at home watching and it took an affect on me.”
McKnight said his goal now is to stay focused and apply the lessons learned from his time with the Jets to the current opportunity of competing for a roster spot with the Chiefs.
“Just be in the best shape possible and just find my role on special teams,” he said. “And work myself in at running back. My main focus is finding my role on special teams.”
The Chiefs have a need at returner since losing punt returner Dexter McCluster and kick returner Quintin Demps to free agency, but there’s plenty of competition currently on the roster.
Among McKnight’s competition for a returner position are running back/specialist De’Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs’ fourth-round draft pick; wide receiver Weston Dressler; and undrafted free agent wide receiver Albert Wilson.
But McKnight, 26, may have an edge over his competition in the form of NFL experience.
In three seasons with the Jets, McKnight used his 4.47 speed to total 76 kickoff returns for 2,205 yards (29 yards per return) and two touchdowns, which included a team-record 107-yard effort in 2011. He also had seven punt returns for 69 yards.
“I know that’s the main fact to make the 53-man roster is special teams first,” McKnight said. “They have Jamaal (Charles) now; he’s already proven himself. I’m just trying to prove myself, so start with special teams first. I’m trying to make my niche in the return game and all phases of the special teams. That’s my base first.”
Should the native of River Ridge, La., get to second base, McKnight would offer versatility and depth at running back behind Charles and Knile Davis.
While it remains to be seen how the team intends to use Thomas, the third running back spot could be open for competition between Cyrus Gray, undrafted free agent Charcandrick West and McKnight.
Listed at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, McKnight joins the Chiefs with 502 yards rushing on 112 carries, adding 177 yards receiving on 17 catches from his time with the Jets.
And he showed off his receiving skills on Thursday.
During the 11-on-11 portion of OTA team drills with the first-team unit, McKnight went in motion out of the backfield and took off down the right sideline at the snap before hauling in a deep pass from quarterback Alex Smith.
“He’s got good pass receiving ability,” Reid said. “He’s a good runner.”
Ultimately, it’s up to McKnight to show he belongs after missing the 2013 season. He’ll also need to prove the Chiefs made the right decision to bring him in.
And to hear McKnight say it, he’s fully embracing the second chance at an NFL career in Kansas City.
“It was one of the opportunities I had to be with a coach that’s going to push me and stay on me the whole time,” McKnight said. “I’m going to take advantage of that.”