CANNIZZARO: Joe McKnight planning to show Jets they had No. 1 running back all along
Lost in the bright lights of the five-man quarterback competition and the mundane matter of who’s going to throw the football for the Jets in 2013 is a less-ballyhooed four-way battle for who’s going to run the ball.
Shonn Greene, the Jets’ lead running back for the last two seasons but never a player who kept a single defensive coordinator up late at night, left via free agency with the team never making any serious move to re-sign him.
So the Jets, who have not had a legitimate lead back since they opted not to bring back Thomas Jones after the 2009 season, are in search of consistent big-play backfield talent. And their choices are not exactly between the likes of Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Adrian Peterson.
Whether any of the four players competing for the lead role is that player remains very much in question. Two of them, former Saint Chris Ivory and former Raider Mike Goodson, are newcomers. The other two are Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell.
Combined, the four have 651 attempts, 2,969 yards, a 4.5-yard average and 15 TDs. None of the four players has ever been a lead back.
Of the four, McKnight, in his fourth season with the Jets, is most vocal about his burning desire to be the man.
“Words can’t even describe how badly I want to be that guy,’’ McKnight told The Post during a break in offseason workouts last week at the team’s Florham Park, N.J., training facility. “I’ve got an edge — a fire to me ... so I can show everybody that I can play.
“When I’m out there practicing it’s like I’m [ticked] off. I’ve got to play the game [ticked] off. That gives me the edge and keeps me on top of my game.’’
McKnight undoubtedly had his nose bent out of shape when the Jets acquired Goodson as a free agent and Ivory in a draft-day trade with New Orleans for a fourth-round pick. He surely saw those moves as the team not having confidence in him.
“I just felt like people are still doubting me, so it’s time for me to go out there and show ’em,’’ he said.
Where McKnight takes it from here is anybody’s guess, but based on Ivory’s career stats, the former Saint appears on paper to be the most accomplished of the group, with 1,307 rushing yards, a 5.1-yard average and eight TDs.
“It’s ‘Competition U’ here and I want to compete,’’ McKnight said. “I did it at USC when they had 11 running backs out there and I’m going to do it now.’’
McKnight views his career, defined more by his special teams contributions as one of the league’s best kick returners than anything he’s done as a running back, as unfulfilled.
“I’m going to be a lot better,’’ he vowed. “I made that promise to myself. If not, I’m going to die trying. I’m nowhere near close to where I want to go.’’
McKnight revealed he never had a conversation with Tony Sparano, the Jets offensive coordinator last season before he was fired.
“I don’t know what Sparano thought of me because he never talked to me,’’ McKnight said. “I’m not going to let that happen again.’’
McKnight said he “loves’’ new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, with whom he shares the same agent.
McKnight, Goodson and Ivory all share a common trait in that they all believe they haven’t yet had a fair chance to be a lead back.
Goodson, who has 160 career attempts, 722 yards, a 4.5-yard average and three TDs, said he signed with the Jets because he saw a “pretty wide-open opportunity.’’
Shortly after the Jets traded for Ivory, he expressed his desire to break out of the being “buried in a crowded backfield’’ he had to deal with in New Orleans, calling the move to the Jets “an opportunity for me to really get the carries that I deserve.”
“I just feel like it’s my time,’’ Ivory said. “I can do some great things and put up some crazy numbers in New York.”
They all have dreams. The offensively-challenged Jets simply hope one of these four backs emerges as that lead playmaker they desperately need to help whichever of the five quarterbacks competing emerges as the starter.
Otherwise, 2013 is going to be a much longer and more disappointing season than 2012 was.