The mysterious fitness methods of Joe McKnight

Joe McKnight against the Broncos. (nfl.com)
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A weekly column about what the Jets are doing when they're not playing football.

The good news: Joe McKnight bulked up this offseason in the hopes of vying for more carries and a more regular role in the offense. He’s at 216 pounds now, up from 198 last year. When the season starts, he hopes to be in the 205-210 range.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been slowed down,” he told reporters.  "And from what I heard it doesn’t look like I’ve slowed down. I got more explosive, more powerful out of my cuts. I could say that.”

The bad news: He accomplished this by eating “a lot of McDonald's… . I ate healthy but the majority of the time I was eating bad. I’m not going to say I was eating all the right stuff like Tim Tebow.”

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The facts: Joe McKnight packed nearly 20 pounds of Mickey D’s into his body.

The pertinent question: How can this possibly be a good thing?

The Jets’ running-back situation is pretty up in the air this year after a season that saw them rank 30th in the league in yards per rushing attempt, down from 8th and 5th the previous two seasons.

Shonn Greene is either adequate or mediocre, depending on which word you want to use, and his impending free agency gives the Jets every incentive to hand the job to someone else.

Bilal Powell was a rookie last year, so not much is known about him. But the fact that he only commanded 13 carries in a year where the Jets were desperate for a spark in their running game isn’t a good sign.

Terrance Ganaway, a 240-pounder the Jets just drafted in the sixth round out of Baylor, is another potential option.

So given these opportunities, in what’s looking to be a make-or-break year for McKnight to determine whether he’s merely a nice special-teams piece or an offensive contributor, he responded by spending the offseason at McDonald's.

Not to question his judgment or anything, but there comes a point where evidence starts piling up that his head is not in the right place. McKnight got into all kinds of silly trouble at USC, left school early despite the common belief that he could have improved his draft status by staying, was woefully out of shape during the “Hard Knocks”-chronicled 2010 training camp his rookie year (McDonald's?), and now this.

FASCINATING GAME CHARTING NUMBERS-CRUNCHING from Pro Football Focus, confirming our anecdotal impression that the Jets’ defense is unpredictable and full of personnel wrinkles you don’t see with other teams.

Most unusual is the Jets’ heavy use of a seven-defensive back alignment, a package the Jets employ 17 percent of the time, or 15 percentage points higher than the next closest team. Usually, this alignment took the form of a 1-3-7 defense, with only one down lineman.

The Jets’ nominal “base” defense is the 3-4-4 alignment, but they were only in that alignment 37 percent of the time, which was the seventh-least-frequent use of the base defense in the entire league. (The team that used its base defense least often? The Giants, at 22 percent.)

Counting all nickel, dime, and 7-plus packages, the Jets deployed at least five defensive backs 57 percent of the time last year. That’s slightly more than the league average of 48 percent.

ON THE SUBJECT OF DEFENSIVE ALIGNMENTS, THE JETS' DEFENSIVE line coach, Karl Dunbar, says the Jets will run the “46” more often, referring to the hyper-aggressive defense invented by Buddy Ryan when he was the defensive coordinator of the Bears in the 1980s.

The basic idea of the 46 is that it puts eight men “in the box” and in a position to rush the passer, but the offense doesn’t know which of the eight are coming and which will drop into coverage.

During the offseason, you’ll often hear coaches declare their intentions to be more aggressive in the coming year, which tends to function as kind of a blustery whipping up of confidence: “We’re going to attack and kick ass this year,” you’ll hear coaches say in so many words, as if a different strategy was employed last year.

But in this case, Dunbar might be touching on something more substantively strategic: Last year, the Jets blitzed on a much lower percentage of plays than they had in previous years. Their blitz percentage was 12th in 2011, 3rd in 2010, and 1st in 2009.

It is like not a coincidence that their sack percentage per passing play fell off from 8th in 2010 to 13th in 2011. (In 2009, it was 15th.)

In Jenny Vrentas’s Star-Ledger article, Dunbar says that Jets' first round pick Quinton Coples is “an awesome” fit for the 46 defense because of his versatility: He can line up as both a tackle and an end, which are two positions he played in college. The fact that the Jets run so many defensive formations and personnel groupings helps explain why they drafted Coples: He might not be a prototypical player for any one position, but he’s a good athlete who can line up at multiple spots.

Of course, as we now know, the Jets preferred West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin, who matches the description of a prototypical outside pass rusher.

THE JETS JUST SIGNED 34-YEAR-OLD SAFETY Yeremiah Bell to a one-year, $1.4 million deal. Bell has a reputation for being good against the run but not so much against the pass—he ranked 49th out of 61 qualifying safeties in Pro Football Focus’s play-by-play rankings. He'll join safeties with similar reputations in LaRon Landry and Eric Smith.

Because of this, the Jets should still take a long look at Jim Leonhard, who said earlier in the offseason that there was “no doubt” he’ll be ready for training camp after a torn patellar tendon, but as of now isn’t healthy enough to work out for teams.

In two out of the past three seasons, Leonhard has ranked in the top six in coverage for safeties in Pro Football Focus’ rankings.

WAYNE HUNTER SURE HAS GOTTEN A LOT OF INK THIS OFF-SEASON.

He was bad last year, no doubt, ranking ranked fifth-to-last among 60 starting tackles in the Pro Football Focus rankings. This, combined with the fact that he was the only new piece to the Jets offensive line last year, has made him the scapegoat for all that went wrong for the unit last year.

And plenty went wrong: The running game plummeted from 8th to 30th in yards per carry. In pass protection, they allowed Mark Sanchez to be sacked on 6.8 percent of his dropbacks, the 12th-most in the league, which is significantly worse than 2010, when they allowed him to be sacked 5.1 percent of his dropbacks, the 25th-most.

But Hunter’s tired of hearing it all.

“I’m the starting right tackle, that’s it,” he told reporters. “Not up for debate. Whatever happens come opening day, I am the starting right tackle. They told me that, so it’s clear to me. It’s as simple as that.”

“I had good games last year, had some great games. I also had some bad games. I didn’t pick up where Woody left off. I was the weakest link last year at times, played like a rookie last year, and this year I’m going to play like a nine-year veteran.”

Perhaps he’s picking up his unapologetic self-confidence from his new offensive line coach, Dave Deguglielmo, who is replacing Bill Callahan this year, and who gushed about Hunter to reporters.

“I see many, many more great things, and I see the upside, I see the movement skills, the explosiveness. How it all worked out? I don’t know, but I know this much: The guy I have in that room right now, the guy that communicates with me, is nothing like the guy people explained that I would have. He’s not introverted, he’s not any of those things people say he is. He has a great personality, great energy, great desire and great skills. It looks like the makings of something great.”

It’s true that Hunter looks like he should be good. DeGuglielmo, commenting on Hunter’s physique, said, “They [should] strap shields to this guy and put him in The Coliseum.”

TIM TEBOW YADA YADA YADA 30-minute special on E! yada yada in July.

KENRICK ELLIS, THE JETS' MASSIVE SECOND-YEAR nose tackle who has had a felony malicious wounding charge hanging over him since he was drafted in the third round last year, pled the charge down to misdemeanor assault and battery.

With the plea, Ellis, a native of Jamaica, is no longer at risk for deportation. There’s the possibility that he will serve up to 90 days in jail, but it seems unlikely that he’ll have to during the football season. The man who pressed charges will also likely pursue a civil case against Ellis, his lawyer said, though the plea agreement means it will probably be for less than the $3 million he sued for last year before withdrawing the suit.

The incident in question took place when both Ellis and the man were students at Hampton University. The victim alleges that Ellis, who is listed at 330 pounds, beat him unconscious and broke his nose and jaw. Ellis had maintained that the victim attacked his girlfriend and menaced the two of them with a baseball bat.

Ellis played sparingly last year (69 snaps total) behind the great Sione Pouha, but look for him to get more snaps this year as Pouha, 33, advances into football senior citizenship during the three-year contract he just signed.

JOE NAMATH'S LATEST OBSERVATION, THAT MARK Sanchez is way better than Tim Tebow, is obvious enough by looking at the 10-point difference in their completion percentages. What interested me more from this article was the retro Broadway Joe way of wording his uneasy relationship with Woody Johnson.

“There’s an underlying sensitivity there that the Jets have,” he said. “I don’t like feeling the vibes that I get back whenever I cross Woody’s path.”