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Will this finally be Joe McKnight's year?

Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

When Joe McKnight committed to USC there were visions of a player that many thought could be like Reggie Bush. McKnight had that IT factor...a player that could turn the direction of a game with one break out play.

We saw how McKnight could break an opposing team in the Rose Bowl against Illinois. But we thought we would see it more than just a play here or a play there. Many of us understood that McKnight's freshman season was going to be a work in progress so we were patient. We were rewarded with that spectacular run against Illinois and many of us thought that 2008 was going to be McKnight's break out year but that really didn't happen.

But McKnight's season started off with a weird injury...

During USC's 2008 training camp, he suffered a bone fracture in a finger when a dorm-room door was accidentally slammed on his hand. It was one of several freakish injuries and maladies that marred the running back's sophomore season.

Then there was McKnight's turf toe which culminated in 4 dislocated toes this past January's Rose Bowl beat down of Penn St. Once again we were left wondering when was McKnight going to consistently show us all that we had that we had seen glimpses of since he arrived at USC.

McKnight knows he can do better and wants to show his team mates that his all that we think he is...

McKnight was statistically impressive last season despite his physical struggles.

He was the Trojans' second-leading rusher and averaged 7.4 yards a carry. He also caught 21 passes.

But McKnight scored only three touchdowns and felt as if he let down teammates.

"I want to produce more and make more plays to try and make up for the last two years," he said.

McKnight simply wasn't ready for that responsibility and he readily admits that because of the pressure he wasn't having the fun he had hoped.

After two years where he was known for his fumbles as much as for any long runs, USC tailback Joe McKnight finally feels comfortable and claims he is ready to perform to expectations.

"I couldn't say I was having fun the first two years," McKnight said Sunday. "Now I'm having fun. I want to be on the field more to make up for the last two years. I feel like I came here and didn't do too good."

McKnight has made some nice runs the first two days of practice and USC coach Pete Carroll said the junior appears ready to enjoy an offensive role similar to former tailback Reggie Bush.

"He looks flashy and the best he's ever looked," Carroll said. "We always pictured that (Bush) role. He can handle it. He just needs to stay healthy."

Maybe it was too much, but last spring McKnight seemed to have turned the corner...

The weight of the Trojan fans’ Coliseum-sized disappointment weighed McKnight down. Here was a young man who had lost his swagger. It almost seemed like the game was no longer fun for him.

That’s why I was shocked to see Joe so, well, upbeat at practice Tuesday.

You could see it in his body language. In his first full practice of the spring, McKnight sprinted around the field, looking 100 percent for the first time since who knows how long. Then he was all smiles as he signed autographs to adoring fans, one after the other.

It was evident in his words. McKnight, whose notoriously short interviews only got shorter when things started to go awry for him on the field, responded like a changed man.

Fans always too much in the way of expectations but I also think the coaches placed a little too much pressure on McKnight to try and live up to the the Reggie Bush model. I know a lot of the fans wanted to see lightning strike twice and we have seen some glimpses of it...

Id on't think I will get tired of watching those highlights!

Of course, another part of the problem, if you can call it that, is that McKnight is part of the stable of running backs that USC has stockpiled over the years. A stable that has seen players transfer because the limited amount of reps that can go around. This is a special group of running backs and each have their own unique running style. McKnight has the ability to play in space as well as turn on the jets out of the backfield.

This could be a really big year for McKnight if he stays healthy and if he can hang onto the ball...I hope we all finally see what we have been hoping for!