June 25, 2008

McKnight shakes off rust in summer workouts

Joe McKnight arrived at USC with a full cloud of excitement surrounding him. Comparisons to Reggie Bush began even before he ever put on cardinal and gold.

In his freshman year, he didn't disappoint.

McKnight showcased explosiveness and versatility, all culminating with a start at running back in the Trojans' Rose Bowl win over Illinois. Against the Illini, McKnight scampered for 206 total yards.

Heading into spring practice, McKnight hoped to keep the momentum going.

But during workouts, McKnight had to be pulled from the field after not meeting academic requirements.

"I dropped a course, and it put me under 12 units," McKnight said. "I wasn't really messing up or anything. I dropped the class because I thought I might fail."

Now, he's back on the field, working with his teammates in organized workouts and in player-run seven-on-seven drills. And he's got a new look.

With a full beard, McKnight said his facial hair is here to stay for now.

"This is my Rick Ross. I'm going to grow it all the way out - probably cut it next summer," he said.

His facial hair has been a topic of conversation at the team's workouts, with quarterback Mark Sanchez calling the sophomore running back "Baby Kimbo" - a reference to full-bearded mixed-martial artist Kimbo Slice.

"It feels good," he said. "I thought I'd come out and be sluggish and feel bad, but Coach (Chris) Carlisle really has me working."

Whether it's name-calling or trash-talking, there's not been much silence on the USC practice fields so far this summer.

McKnight said he likes it that way.

"It keeps it competitive. If we're all talking to each other, we're all going to work and try to prove ourselves," McKnight said. "As long as we keeping talking, we have to keep on working. At some other schools, the talk doesn't mean anything.

"Here, it's all about competing. That's always in our head."

The summer workouts have also given McKnight a competitive edge, making him even more dangerous.

"I'm trying to get some solid weight on me. I'm also trying to get even more explosive. I already feel more explosive," he said. "I feel faster. I'm just trying to keep my weight steady. I'd get to where I want, and I'd keep dropping it."

McKnight's at 205 pounds, looking solid during the team's workouts. More physically mature, McKnight also understands the Trojan offense at a higher level going into his sophomore season.

"It's not too big of a jump. It's all about being comfortable. You have to settle in quicker. You need to know all your stuff quicker," he said. "Once I figured everything out during my freshman year, I've just transferred it over to this summer."

Whether in the backfield, in the slot or on the outside, McKnight said he's ready to get his hands on the ball.

"I'm comfortable wherever. It took me awhile to learn the plays and the sets, but I'm good now," he said. "I'm mainly working on trying to get my routes crisper."

With a crowded backfield full of four- and five-star recruits, McKnight's envious of two traits possessed by Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson.

"I wish I had AB's physical ability. He runs so strong," McKnight said. "And I wish I had Stafon's legs. Those are big-ass legs."

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