McKnight Back on Track

Last week, Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis said that wide receiver Rhema McKnight looks better now than he did before the season-ending knee injury he sustained in a victory over Michigan. That injury forced McKnight to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines. But if Weis is correct, that could spell danger for opposing secondaries.

"Well, they see things from a different perspective than I do," McKnight said about Weis's assessment. "I'm going to take his word for it."

Big things are expected from the fifth-year wideout. After leading the team in yards and receptions in 2003 and 2004, the injury derailed what could have been a big year for McKnight. From all indications, McKnight is healthy and back on track this spring.

"He's been the best out there," Weis said of McKnight during spring practice. "It's not close for second. He looks like a starting wide receiver. His quickness is there. He's catching the ball, running good routes and blocking. We're really fortunate to lose a guy like Mo (Stovall) and have a guy like Rhema with the extra year of eligibility."

"Being out there and running routes is pretty good," McKnight said. "Brady (Quinn) and I are starting to get a good chemistry together. In fact, all of our receivers are getting a nice little chemistry going with Brady. Offense is going pretty well. Not where we want it to be but we're moving along.

"We all have to find that niche with Brady. Hopefully we can contain that throughout the spring and into the summer."

This momentum was halted last season when McKnight suffered the knee injury in the second quarter against the Wolverines. The plan was to have him get healthy and come back five weeks later for the rivalry contest with USC. But with Jeff Samardzija's emergence as one of the top wide receivers in the nation, Stovall finally meeting expectations and McKnight's own rehab not going smoothly enough, they decided to shut it down for the season and come back for a fifth-year. He sat on the sidelines and watched the Irish accumulate a 9-3 record and earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. It wasn't an easy thing to watch.

"That's one of the toughest things of getting over an injury is the mental aspect of it and getting back into the swing of things," McKnight said. "Sitting out last year was extremely difficult. But I had a lot of support among my teammates. Guys were constantly staying on me and making me happy. They were keeping me motivated and positive."

This season, he'll be without his buddy, Stovall. These two were constantly seen last year joking around with each other and keeping the mood light during stretching exercises. Stovall capped his Notre Dame career on a high note by posting 69 grabs for 1,149 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2005, all career highs. He's projected to be picked on the first day of the NFL Draft. McKnight saw what he did in Weis's offense and hopes the same can be true of him this season.

"It feels weird not to be around a guy you've been with for four years," McKnight said of his relationship with Stovall. "At the same time, you can't dwell on it and you have to move on. You have to find a way to keep yourself motivated and keep yourself happy.

"Mo did a fantastic job last season. He opened up a lot of people's eyes and I'll be real proud of him when he gets drafted. I think a lot of guys are hungry for that. We feel like we're put into a position where we can go to the next level and be successful."

In addition to Weis, helping McKnight try to reach that next level is wide receivers coach Rob Ianello. Ianello deserves some of the credit for the performances of Stovall and Samardzija last season. Ianello's tutelage, combined with Weis's offense and Quinn's golden right arm, could translate into a monster year for McKnight. The senior wideout appreciates how Ianello motivates the group and has them on their toes at all times.

"He's constantly on you," McKnight said of Ianello. "He pushes you and pushes you and pushes you. That's a good thing. He'll tell you a lot more negatives than positives, which is a good thing. When you fill a player's head up with so many positive things, he tends not to listen to the bad things. We focus on the things we need to correct instead of the things we're doing well." Top Stories