Can Dee Milliner be an island ? ? ?
Not long after the Jets selected cornerback Dee Milliner with the ninth overall pick in April's NFL draft, Antonio Cromartie decided he had to take a good, hard look at the rookie who was likely to line up across from him this season.
Cromartie had become the Jets' No. 1 cornerback last year after Darrelle Revis tore his left ACL and missed the season's final 13 games. On April 21, unwilling to meet Revis's demands for a new contract, the Jets traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Four days later, they drafted Milliner, making it inevitable that the rookie would be compared with the man he was replacing—to a cornerback so highly respected around the NFL that he had earned the audacious nickname Revis Island.
Using software called Hudl, Cromartie downloaded video clips from Milliner's career at Alabama to his laptop. What he saw impressed him."He's pressed a lot, and that's what we like: press corners. He's good in the run game, and he's also a guy who can play the ball very well, too," Cromartie said. "We're not asking him to come in and be Darrelle Revis. We're asking him to come in and be Dee Milliner."Now that Milliner has come to terms with the Jets on a four-year contract, ending his weeklong holdout by agreeing to the deal Sunday night, coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman can begin assimilating him into the lineup.
The process will take time. Milliner didn't report in time for Monday's practice, and since the Jets are off Tuesday, the earliest he could work out with the team would be Wednesday."It's football," he said. "I know I'll be fine."
Because he has been recovering from right shoulder surgery in March, Milliner didn't take the field for the Jets in any of their off-season minicamps or organized team activities, though he showed an impressive understanding of the team's defensive scheme during meetings with his coaches and teammates."If he's done any studying at all" during his time away from the team, "he should come in and be fairly close to where he needs to be," Thurman said.Once he gets himself into the requisite physical shape to play regularly, Milliner should adapt quickly to the NFL and, more specifically, to the Jets' style of defense, said former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, who works as an analyst on Alabama radio broadcasts.
Under coach Nick Saban, Alabama has won three national titles in the last four years. It runs a system that is far more complex than that of an average college team, Savage said—a "pattern-reading defense" in which players' assignments change based on every shift or movement an offense makes.For example, Milliner might have lined up across from a wide receiver, on the outside of the formation, on a given play. But he'd keep his eyes inside on the tight end, and he'd react based on what the tight end—not the wide receiver he appeared to be covering—did."The eye control and the zone positioning, he's going to have a very strong handle on that," Savage said. "And the concepts that the Jets utilize will be very similar to what he's accustomed to at Alabama."
At 6 feet and 201 pounds, Milliner is virtually the same size that Revis (6 feet, 204 pounds) was when the Jets drafted him in 2007. And Milliner's time of 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine showed that he possesses "big-time, straight-line speed," Savage said.That speed is important, given that Savage identified one potential weakness in Milliner's game. In Alabama's defense, it was rare for him to line up in single coverage and give an opposing receiver a seven- or eight-yard cushion off the line of scrimmage. Usually, Milliner had "boundaries"—the sideline, perhaps, or a safety between the hash marks—that limited the area of the field for which he was responsible. He'll have to get used to covering a receiver in more open space.
"The one thing that he's got to prove," Savage said, "is that he can play out on an island."