The Rundown: The ups and downs of Dee Milliner’s rookie year

Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.com

Rookies Sheldon Richardon and Geno Smith are making major contributions to the team, but it is the team’s first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft that seems to be having the most trouble getting and staying on the field.

After five college surgeries capped by a surgery this spring on an injured shoulder.  Because of this, Milliner was not able to keep up as much with conditioning as the Jets and the rookie might have wished.  Then, Milliner, fired his agency after he was displeased with their representation.  Working with a new agent, Milliner’s contract took a few days into training camp to get hammered out.  Next, it was the training camp calf injury.  In Week 2, it was the benching against New England.  Yesterday, it was another injury in practice.

Dee-Milliner-27Per Darryl Slater of the Star-Ledger.

Milliner missed significant preseason time with a calf/Achilles injury that his coaches have said limited his development. He isn’t pleased to be hurting again.

“I just had that that Achilles,” he said. “This has been aggravating. I’m going to be OK. I’m just going to stay at it and keep working. I’ve had some ups and downs (through the first three games). You’re going to have those.”

Because of this, many questions are getting raised among media and fans alike.  What gives with Milliner?  Will he ever get and stay on the field this season?  Will he ever?

Those questions we might not have answers to, but we do have a good sense of who will start opposite Antonio Cromartie in his stead.  According to Rich Cimini of ESPN NY don’t be surprised if this weekend’s starter is Darrin Walls.  Walls is a former undrafted free agent from Notre Dame who has impressed the Jets coaching staff so far this year.

At cornerback, Rex Ryan hinted that he’d like start Darrin Walls in the base defense, with Kyle Wilson playing in nickel situations. Wilson will play a lot because the Titans will be in a three-receiver package for most of the game.

Dee Milliner did tell Brian Costello of the NY Post that the rookie felt like he could theoretically play this weekend if needed.

The rookie corner claims he will be healthy enough to play Sunday in Tennessee, but it’s the latest nagging setback in an admittedly up-and-down start to his NFL career.

“I felt it give a little bit. The trainers came to check it out, so they felt it was best to pull me out of practice,’’ said Milliner, who insisted being pulled from practice Wednesday and sitting out Thursday was purely precautionary. Asked if he would be able to play against the Titans, he said he expected to be available.

“Yeah. That’s why I’ve been in the training room, just trying to get back, do my part,’’ Milliner said. “I’ll just leave that up to the coaching staff to make that decision.’’

Ryan and Thurman though might not feel the need to rush the rookie back.

As we’ve talked about ad nauseum, compared to other secondaries around the league, the Jets cornerbacks are very deep, so the drop-off in play from a Walls, Wilson or Lankster is not that great from Milliner (at least at this point) so the Jets will make do with what they have and it doesn’t seem to bother DC Dennis Thurman all that much.

“This defense is not built on one player,” Thurman told reporters on Thursday.  “This defense is built on having guys that can do multiple things. To play corner here for the New York Jets, you have to be able to play man-to-man. It doesn’t matter who the body is, it’s can he go out and do the job?”

For Ryan’s scheme, he has a brood of cornerbacks who all do one thing very well above all else; play man-to-man.  When paired with the Jets current attacking defensive front, good man coverage skills can be enough for the Jets coaches on which to build a solid gameplan.

As far as Milliner’s stop and start progress, Darryl Slater also writes in the Star-Ledger that the head coach did like what he saw from Milliner’s play last weekend against the Bills.

“He was coming,” Ryan said. “Hopefully this isn’t that big of an issue. […] He played well this past week.”

Because of Milliner’s injury, it was suggested to Rex Ryan in the press conference that Dee Milliner might be injury prone.    ESPN NY’s Rich Cimini wrote about Ryan’s response, but also shared some insight from a former NFL coach on Milliner.

Ryan bristled when it was suggested that Milliner, who missed half the preseason with an Achilles’ injury, is prone to injuries. Also remember, he missed the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery.

“How many games did he miss in college?” Ryan asked. “Yeah, exactly, I think it was one game.”

But Milliner also underwent surgery five times in college. Obviously, the Jets weren’t concerned because they drafted him ninth overall, paying him a fully guaranteed $12.6 million. Still, I recall what one longtime NFL coach told me the first time he met Milliner. He was stunned by the rookie’s relatively slight frame, wondering how he’d handle the wear and tear of the NFL.

It is a fair observation on Milliner, but we imagine that a full offseason in a Jets conditioning program along with some veteran guidance will help on filling out Milliner’s frame.  According to Cromartie, he’s already on top of coaching up the rookie.

Again from Slater.

“We had a talk (Thursday) morning and I think the biggest thing for him is to understand you want to try to get a routine and stick to that routine, even when you’re not injured. It’s just maintenance. We feel like we’re horse racers on the outside, so you want to make sure you take care of your body as much as possible, even when you’re not feeling like you’re injured.”

Cromartie said that maintenance includes “stretching, hot tub, cold tub, getting in there if you have even a small problem and just taking care of that problem. The biggest thing is you’ve just got to take care of your body and understand when and when not you can do some things, and if you have tightness anywhere, just make sure you’re always stretching. We’ve got to make sure our body is well up-kept and taken care of.”

For the first time this year, Cromartie had teammates participate in summer workouts with him in California. Cromartie is already expecting Milliner to show up next summer, and said Milliner is well aware about this.

“He’ll be there next summer,” Cromartie said. “A lot of guys are already asking about it already, so a lot of guys enjoyed it.”

It’s not been pretty or easy for Milliner so far as a rookie, but there have been enough obstacles this season that we think a full offseason program with the team will go a long way for the rookie.