McMillian Has Speed, Intelligence to Succeed

Can Jerron McMillian play coverage and adapt to the NFL? Those are the big questions about a small-school safety who made most of his plays at the line of scrimmage. To help answer those questions with OTAs starting this week, we talked to Maine coach Jack Cosgrove.

The Green Bay Packers' rookie class got its collective feet wet during the rookie minicamp, but that group will get its first true taste of the NFL when the veterans arrive for organized team activities this week.

One player who will be under the microscope is safety Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick from Maine. While little can be gleaned about the linemen in these shorts-and-helmet practices, McMillian's instincts in coverage and ability to cover ground in center field should be immediately evident when reporters (and fans) are allowed to watch practice on Tuesday, as well as Wednesday, May 30, and Tuesday, June 5.

In 2005, second-round pick Nick Collins successfully made the jump from FCS-level Bethune-Cookman to the NFL. Can McMillian make a similar FCS-to-NFL jump?

"I don't think it's that big of a jump, but there's always jumps that you have to take," McMillian said at the rookie camp. "Just coming from that school, it's going to be a big difference but you have to get used it."

One big similarity between Collins and McMillian is their speed. McMillian ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine among the safeties, and he improved that to 4.35 at his pro day. For some players, the stopwatch has little correlation to on-field performance, though his coach at Maine said McMillian plays to his timed speed.

"I believe he does, especially in the run support part of things," Maine's Jack Cosgrove told Packer Report. "I heard Coach Capers mention that he thought the upside with Jerron is he could play strong and free (safety). I do believe he can but if you were to pin me down on whether he's better at run support or playing the ball in the air, I'd say run support. I think he'll come up and hit you with speed and enthusiasm. He's really good on the edge. He can blitz."

But can he cover? At Maine, Cosgrove tailored his defense to the strength of his safeties, McMillian and Trevor Coston. So, McMillian frequently played close to the line of scrimmage, where he collected 10.5 tackles for losses but just one interception as a senior. However, as a sophomore, McMillian recorded five interceptions.

"I really think he can (play deep) because he did at times," Cosgrove said. "We tried to get it so he was the rolled-up guy, the inverted guy, and Trevor was back playing center field. But Jerron has played on the hash in Cover-2. Can he do it at the NFL level? I believe he can but it's going to be a bigger challenge. ... I think he can do it but my initial inclination is he would add to you first and foremost as a strong safety in run support."

McMillian has intelligence to go with his athleticism. That's vital at safety, a position that's crucial is making sure everyone in coverage is on the same page.

"He's got a tremendous knowledge of the game," Cosgrove said. "He's made himself a student of the game and he's worked hard at that. He and Trevor Coston led the defense, they managed the defense, they were the voice of the defense. They made sure everyone on the defense knew their assignments or else they'd have to hear it from them."

McMillian should fit in well in the NFL's smallest community. A native of Hillside, N.J., a city of about 21,000 next to Newark, N.J. Cosgrove said McMillian can "light up (a room) with a smile" and fit in seamlessly in Orono, Maine.

He won't be fazed by the moment, either. Cosgrove recalls watching the safeties run their 40-yard dashes at the Scouting Combine. While the other prospects were dead serious, McMillian was joking with the starter.

"We're not down the street," Cosgrove said. "The one thing I can promise you is he'll have an adaptation to your climate that we share here in the Northeast. We're not a place, like you are, that you pass by. We're a small school in a small town, so that environment will be similar. We're a virtual unknown to most of the young men we get here. Where he's from, they've got tons of buildings. We've got tons of trees."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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