Coach Rex Ryan said the Jets are planning to convert the running back in order to shore up the cornerback position after Darrelle Revis suffered a season-ending ACL tear last Sunday in Miami.
"He'll have a role on offense but we're teaching him how to play corner in an almost, not quite a full-time capacity," Ryan said. "But he's going to be over there a ton, in the meetings and everything else."
McKnight, who had three interceptions in practice -- one from each quarterback -- accepted his new role, but he wasn't necessarily happy about it.
"I was drafted as a running back," McKnight said. "The way I took it as I wasn't good enough to play running back; that's what I took it as. I don't know if that's the case or not."
McKnight found out about the Jets' plans for him during a Monday meeting in front of the entire team. Ryan told him he'd be attending meetings with the defense going forward.
"Rex walked in the room and said I got traded, I got traded to the defense," McKnight said.
McKnight will still have a role on offense, Ryan said. He also is used in some of the Wildcat packages.
"He can do it all; return kicks, punts, offense, defense," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "He's one of those dynamic guys who can do it all. I think he's still doing both sides of the ball, so double study hall."
McKnight has 14 yards on three carries this season in the Jets' first three games. He had been passed by Bilal Powell on the depth chart at running back, but is a quick and athletic player the team would like to utilize. McKnight also returns kickoffs.
"He's a guy that we saw on scout team that he has the necessary skills to be able to play corner," Ryan said. "He's got the speed, the size, athleticism, the ball skills, so I don't think there's any reason not to think Joe McKnight couldn't be a corner. It's just going to take time, obviously."
As far as his defensive work, McKnight has played some scout team at corner for the Jets and also played the position in high school. He was asked if the latter would help him adjust to his new role in the NFL.
"That does not help at all," McKnight said. "It's been a while since I played cornerback, maybe if I'd played cornerback in college four years. Me playing cornerback in high school does not help right now."
McKnight will play behind Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson on defense, the two players who will be most expected to compensate for the loss of Revis. Still, whether he plays as a substitute or in a nickel package, McKnight will need every bit of that speed and athleticism to cover the wide receivers in the NFL.
"I have a bigger role just making sure he knows the assignments that he's supposed to do," Cromartie said. "Coach (Dennis) Thurman and I are working on his technique."
So even if McKnight doesn't like it, he will push himself to use the opportunity because that's what the team needs right now.
"Once a coach makes a decision, you just got to go in and do what he says to do," McKnight said.