Florham Park N.J. - Start up the hype, over-dramatics, and way-too-early predictions because mandatory OTAs have begun. Minicamp is a time for teams to evaluate what talent they have while attempting to resolve a long list of open-ended questions. For the New York Jets, there are plenty of questions that will progressively answer themselves over the course of a week and while training camp kicks off in July.
One player that turned some heads the last few weeks, and on the first day of mandatory OTAs, was Dee Milliner. The 24-year-old is entering his fifth NFL season with much to prove and a roster spot potentially in jeopardy. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has not had the start to his professional career that he would have hoped for. Since being drafted, Milliner has played in 21 of New York's 48 total games. The reason is not due to Milliner's performance, he has shown flashes of shutdown defense, but rather the injuries that have plagued the first-rounder since he began his career in green and white.
This year is different. Milliner finally has a full offseason under his belt and he took that time to build a stronger chemistry with his teammates and gain flexibility in his lower body. Milliner began a routine that requires him to do yoga three times during the week and he already sees a difference. In addition to the yoga, Milliner has given himself more treatment for his body by eating healthier.
"The legs feel better and my body just feels better," Milliner said with a smile. "I have to stay healthy, go out there, and do what my coaches and team needs me to do."
Now that he is at full strength and has a clean bill of health, Milliner is ready to take the necessary steps to be one of the starting cornerbacks along with Todd Bowles' deep list of defensive backs. Darrelle Revis, Marcus Williams, and Buster Skrine remain the top three corners on the Jets talented depth chart but expect Milliner to continue to make appearances with the first team during practice and in certain packages that require an extra defensive back especially if he continues to knock down passes intended to Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa, and Kembrell Thompkins.
"The big thing is that he is healthy," said Bowles. "The more reps he gets the better. His confidence is growing. I'm hoping he continues that once training camp starts."
While Milliner insists there is no extra chip on his shoulder to prove skeptics wrong, he gets the motivation from his fellow defensive back unit who compete and motivate each other on a daily basis. As a cohesive unit, Revis, Williams, Skrine, and now Milliner compete to bring out the best in one another.
"You just want to go out there and play with the team," said Milliner. "You just have to keep it going, keep moving, and you'll be back there on the field."
Milliner has never played a full NFL season. He admits that has been frustrating. But, sitting on the sideline watching his team battle on Sunday's fuels the fire inside of him and pushes Milliner to get better. The challenge is there, his health is fine, now it is time for the former Alabama standout to meet the expectations and avoid being labeled a bust.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)null