Milliner Expects Challenge From Irish

An irony of football is that if the offense does its job, it spends a lot of time on the field, but if the defense does its job, it is not on the field very long. Inside that, an outstanding offensive player will be featured, but a top defender may be left out of much of the action.

That has been the case for junior Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, a consensus first team All-America performer in 2012. Milliner, 6-1, 200, was overlooked in preseason assessments of the Crimson Tide, which emphasized players who had been lost from the secondary – Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie.

But Milliner was no rookie. The Millbrook native had started 11 games at cornerback as a freshman in 2010 and was the number one nickel in 2011, starting 11 games. He had turned in 82 tackles, caused a fumble, broken up 16 passes, and made four interceptions which he had returned for 72 yards, including a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown that sealed a 42-14 victory over Auburn in 2011.

It didn't take long for Milliner to remind everyone of his talents. In Bama's season-opening 41-14 win over Michigan, Milliner was selected as the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week. Milliner had an interception he returned 35 yards to set up a touchdown, broke up four passes, and had five tackles.

It's likely that performance moved Milliner's name up in the scouting reports of future opponents.

Although he wasn't tested nearly as much in future Bama games, Milliner has had a very solid season with 51 tackles (33 primary), four tackles for loss (19 yards), two sacks, two interceptions, and 18 passes broken up (his 20 passes defended leads the Southeastern Conference), one caused fumble, one fumble recovery and return for 17 yards, and a blocked kick.

And this without the ball being thrown to his side of the field very often.

Milliner said he doesn't keep track of how many balls go to his side and how many to the other side of the field. Nor does he take credit for his success, other than "me just trying to do what I'm supposed to do, which is make plays for the team." He said a key is the defensive front putting pressure on the quarterback.

And if the ball doesn't come to his side, he said, "Hopefully, on the other side they are making plays."

Milliner said he wasn't trying to prove anything this season. "I'd just say I'm going out there playing my best. I just try to go out there and do what I'm supposed to do for the team and help them out, just play my role. That's what makes us good. Nobody's trying to stick out more than the other. Everybody's trying to do their role and do what they're supposed to do."

Following a brief break for Christmas, Milliner and his Alabama teammates return to the practice field in Tuscaloosa today, preparing for the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Milliner is aware of one Fighting Irish player to watch for. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, a 6-6, 250-pound senior, was consensus first team All-America and winner of the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end. This year he caught 44 passes for 624 yards and four touchdowns.

Milliner and Eifert met at the College Awards Show in Orlando earlier this month as Milliner was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for best defensive player.

"We had some talks," Milliner said. "I also talked to (Notre Dame linebacker) Manti Te'o. They are both great guys, both great players for their team."

He said that Eifert "can line up as a wide receiver and stretch the defense and create different match-ups against linebackers. I just have to watch him and know where he is at all times."

Milliner said he enjoyed talking to Eifert and looks forward to talking to him again and shaking his hand after the game.

There's something else that will happen following the game. Milliner has to make a decision as to whether to try his hand at professional football by entering the NFL draft, or to return to the Crimson Tide for his senior season.

He said, "I haven't taken time out to think about it yet, but after the game, I'm going to sit down with my family and Coach Saban and make the best choice for my future."

Milliner gives much credit for his play to Tide Coach Nick Saban, who works specifically with cornerbacks in practice. Milliner said, "He's taught me so much. Just the different techniques, the different ways to look at receivers, how they come out of breaks and what you should look at, the way you study film. Just the way you go about your football life. Coach Saban's just taught me so much that's helped me on and off the field. Like I always say, when you come to Alabama, they teach you how to be a man on and off the field. That's true. That's what they've been doing ever since I've been here."

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