Esks run with McKnight

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:42 AM ET

EDMONTON - The newest member of the Edmonton Eskimos coaching staff has the biggest decision to figure out between now and the start of the regular season.

Dennis McKnight was named the club’s running backs coach Tuesday, meaning he will help choose who will start at the tailback spot.

As it stands, the choice is between proven incumbent Arkee Whitlock, who was on pace for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season since coming to the CFL until an ankle injury cut things short. Then there’s rookie sensation Daniel Porter, who averaged over 100 rushing yards in each of his six games in relief.

If the season started tomorrow, McKnight already knows exactly what he would do.

“Whatever the boss tells me to do,” he said in a phone interview from his office at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he spent the past two seasons as the Mustang’s special-teams coach.

“Especially in an 18-game season, it’s good to know you’ve got two guys who can get the job done,” McKnight said. “You’ve got to go into every game thinking you will play every down but the first one if you’re not listed as the starter.”

The Texas native also coached the offensive line and tight ends during his 12-year career, which also included stops at the University of Hawaii, Grossmont College and San Diego State.

This spring, he will be making his first foray into the CFL.

Although he’s never coached running backs before, McKnight knows a thing or two about them — considering he played with the likes of Barry Sanders in an 11-year NFL career as an offensive lineman.

“The next guy after Barry was a long way away,” said McKnight, who was an alternate for the 1988 Pro Bowl. “It’s great to have two guys who are neck and neck.”

Instead of providing his input on who he thinks should play and how much, McKnight views his role as being there to nurture, encourage and motivate his players.

“I just believe in technique and fundamentals,” he said. “As corny as that sounds, technique will take you places skill has never been.”

It’s the same mantra he followed as a player. Prior to joining the coaching ranks, the Drake University graduate played eight seasons with the San Diego Chargers, two with the Detroit Lions and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was an alternate for the Pro Bowl in 1988.

“You always dream to be at the highest level of whatever you do,” said McKnight, who went on to open a business after retiring from the NFL. “There was always something missing.”

That is, until he showed up to help coach at a high school one day.

‘‘There was something about it,” he said. “I was hooked.”

McKnight takes over for Terry Eisler, who was with the Eskimos since 2007 and could possibly be returning to the U of A Golden Bears.

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/Gerry_EdmSun


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