March 19, 2009

McKnight unsure about spring football

For the second straight spring, Joe McKnight might not be taking reps with the other members of The Stable.

Thanks to four dislocated toes on his left foot, McKnight isn't optimistic he'll be able to full participate in drills during spring practices.

Still, he's out on the field, smiling, talking junk and showing off his brand new shoes.

McKnight's football cleats are modeled after a vintage pair of Air Jordan basketball sneakers.

"I'm going to rock them for practice, but I don't think they'll let me wear them in games," he said.

Before McKnight can really begin to worry about what shoes he's going to rock, he has to worry about the four toes that go inside.

"Four toes dislocated on my left foot. It's like I'm walking on my heels the all time. If I put pressure on it, it hurts like a mother…" he said. "When it happened, I thought maybe I just bruised a toe or something. When I felt my toes through my shoe, though, I knew something was up."

The injury occurred in USC's Rose Bowl win over Penn State, and McKnight's been unsure of his future this spring since.

"I don't know. I'll have to wait to see what decision they make," McKnight said. "I mean, I can do some stuff, but I don't think they want to rush me. I'll do whatever they tell me to do."

USC running backs coach Todd McNair said McKnight's absence last spring didn't lead to a poor year on the field. McKnight averaged 7.4 yards per carry last season.

Still, McNair said there are things McKnight's missing by not participating in spring practice.

"It's hard to tell how good he could be. The things he misses the most are the conditioning and the overall understanding of the game," McNair said. "I think he can make that stuff up in the summer, especially the conditioning.

"The extra repetitions could make things just second nature to him. He's been spotty with that because of his injuries. I don't think he has a complete grasp of everything we do."

McKnight said he also misses the competition.

"I'm just missing the team vibe. That's the biggest part. The team I play for is so competitive," he said. "All I have to do is stay competitive the whole time while I'm out. Then when I'm ready, I can just jump back into the competition and have fun.

"I try to compete with them in everything, on the field, watching film and in the meeting room. When I see them do something good, it makes me want to be out there even more. It just makes me more competitive."

McKnight will have some demons to conquer while he tries to get back to full strength. Plagued by injuries over the last season, McKnight just wants to feel right.

"I'm frustrated because I'll still be thinking about it when I'm playing," he said. "Once I get to 100 percent, I hope I'll be back to my old self."

McNair said he's not too worried though.

"He's a natural player," McNair said. "You could drop him out of a plane. He'd land, and he could come out and run."

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