By Alexa Pappas
Confidence and morale have been surging throughout the Jets team this offseason, and second-year cornerback Dee Milliner is no exception after ending the 2013 season with a bang.
Milliner has dominated the headlines recently with comments regarding his stance on the best cornerbacks in the league.
“I’m not going to say somebody that plays the same position is better than me,” Milliner told ESPN.com. “[I] don’t care if they’ve been in the league 10 years and I’ve been here five months. I can’t do that.”
Coming off of a lackluster rookie season after a dominant three years at Alabama, Milliner has improvements to make if he wants to remain the Jets’ top cornerback for the 2014 NFL season.
After missing three games in the first half of last season due to extensive hamstring injuries, Milliner turned his season around after being named defensive rookie of the month for December. He earned the title by picking up his first professional interception in Week 16 against the Browns and snagging two more in the final game of the regular season in Week 17 against the Dolphins. These catches also won him the AFC defensive player of the week for the final week of the season.
In these two games, Milliner broke up a combined 10 passes and picked off three interceptions to end his rookie season. Milliner’s surge in the second half of the season led to him being the first player since 1994 to record five passes defensed in back-to-back games, according to Stats Inc.
Milliner ended the season strong, prompting head coach Rex Ryan to likely name him the No. 1 cornerback this coming season with the losses of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to other teams. He is the Jets’ most viable option ahead of Dimitri Patterson, Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson.
With what Milliner struggles with in potential hamstring injuries, he makes up for with incredible upper-body strength and quickness on his feet to change directions easily. He is fast enough to keep up with the receiver after contact and has a vertical powerful enough to win jump balls against large receivers.
As of minicamp in early June, Milliner said that he was feeling 100 percent and without any pain in his hamstring—one of the main problems that held him back early last year.
It didn’t help that Milliner was viewed as Revis’ heir apparent in his rookie season. Also adding to the learning curve, Ryan is known to favor a man-to-man defense, putting a more-than-average amount of pressure on the cornerback position. But with a few years of training under Ryan, Milliner will more likely than not be able to step up, work through the injuries and improve on his defensive footwork.
There are always adjustments coming into the NFL from college competition. But Milliner’s speedy recovery from a rough start deserves praise, and the momentum is likely to spill over into the 2014 season.
Alexa is an intern for MLB Advanced Media, a partner with SNY.tv