FLORHAM PARK: Throughout the first three days of the Jets training camp, there’s been a pretty regular sight seen each practice. It’s easy to spot, too. Wherever you’re standing on the field –sideline, endzone, bleachers—try to locate Darrelle Revis.
Once you spot No. 24, look just a bit to his left, then to his right. Sure enough, eventually you’ll find Dee Milliner. See, since Revis joined Milliner in New York’s secondary, the third-year pro has been in the six-time Pro Bowlers pocket, looking to soak up every bit of information he can.
It wasn’t long ago that Milliner was viewed as the replacement for the one he’s now looking to learn everything from. In 2013, after the Jets traded Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team used the No. 9 pick in the draft to bring Milliner to New York. Instantly, Milliner was placed atop the depth chart. Since then, things haven’t gone as planned.
In the two years since Milliner was drafted, poor play and injuries have hampered the once high expectations surrounding the Alabama product. As a rookie, he suffered a shoulder injury in the offseason that limited his ability to participate. When he returned, he struggled and was benched. The next season, it was a training camp ankle injury that sent Milliner to the bench. He fought his way back, re-injured his ankle, fought his way back again, then ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Truthfully, since Milliner heard his name called on draft day, he’s spent about as much time on the trainer’s table as the game day field.
“I’m ready to put that behind me,” Milliner said. “No injuries, and I’m trying to keep it that way. I’m doing my maintenance in the training room so I can say out of the training room. I’m just trying to be comfortable and stay healthy.”
For now, Milliner is healthy –-he participated fully in the Jets training camp practice Saturday—so his focus has turned to ways he can improve his game. For that, he’s called on the help of Revis and fellow cornerback Antonio Cromartie, players with 10 combined Pro Bowls and six All-Pro honors between them.
After every one of Milliner’s reps (individual or team) he’ll immediately make his way over to the two. If Milliner made a poor play, he’ll ask what he can do to improve. If he made a good play, he’ll ask how he could make it great. If he made a great play, well, he’ll look for a pat on the back.
“I’m just trying to be a mentor as much as I can,” Revis said. “Whatever question he has to ask, I try to give him the best answer I can, whether it’s technique wise or off the field wise.”
Revis said he’s seen an eagerness from Milliner, and a desire to be great. It’s not much different than what Revis had when he entered the league as New York’s first-round pick in 2007.
But while Milliner is healthy, hungry and is taking the necessary steps to improve himself as a player, when he’ll get the chance to show how far he’s come is up in the air. Unlike the first two years of his career when he had a fast-pass to the front of New York’s cornerback depth chart, he suddenly now finds himself in the back of the line. Revis, Cromartie and Buster Skrine are penciled in as the top three at the position. Milliner, meanwhile, is fighting for playing time with Marcus Williams, Dexter McDougle and Darrin Walls.
But how many reps each practice Milliner receives, or where he falls on the depth chart, aren’t decisions he has control over. All Milliner can control is what he does when he’s on the field. And right now, he’s working to make sure the coaches take notice.
“I’m out here playing and trying to do what I’m supposed to do,” Milliner said. “When the coaches tell me to get out there, I get out there.”
After being relegated to just individual drills the first two days of Jets training camp, Milliner was finally allowed out on the field for team work Saturday. It didn’t take long for the Jets offense to test him, either.
On his first rep, Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sent a deep ball in Milliner’s direction. Milliner stayed with receiver Walter Powell stride-for-stride and broke up the pass. Later on, he broke up another end zone attempt intended for Brandon Marshall.
The two plays were baby steps in the road to recovery for Milliner. But it’s a road he’s happy to be on after the rocky start to his NFL career.
“I feel good, I feel comfortable,” Milliner said. “It really felt great being out there with my teammates again and getting in the role of things.
“I’ve been thinking about this since October. It really felt good to be back out there.”