Jets rookie CB Justin Miller is the likely successor to Ty Law as he's not expected back in 2006. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Justin Miller had been waiting his entire 21-year-old life – let alone his 15-game rookie season – for this opportunity, and draft pick or not, he wasn’t going to pass it up.
When Miller fielded Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell’s kickoff with just over six minutes left in the Jets’ final game, he showed the same explosive burst he had all season. The difference this time?
Miller didn’t speed into a wall; rather, all he saw was “just green and daylight.”
“My team was blocking and laying it on the line,” he said. “I saw them running with me, so it was my goal to get into the endzone.”
Miller finished the season averaging 26.1 yards per kickoff return, third best in the NFL. The rookie from Clemson returned 60 kickoffs (sixth most in the League) and would’ve returned punts, too, but struggled mightily during training camp and the early part of the season.
A harbinger of his struggles reared its head in August, when he fumbled four consecutive punts during a special teams drill. However, his potential on kickoff returns has impressed the coaching staff.
“He’s matured a lot,” former Jets coach Herm Edwards said. “He’s become more of a detail guy; more of a focus guy. And that’s what hurts most young guys it’s hard for them to stay focused in a 16-game season. It’s a long season. All young players are like that.”
Edwards continued: “He’s been very good. I mean, he’s dropped the ball a couple times but he’s a weapon on kickoffs. He’s explosive.”
Miller is no Dante Hall yet, but if he can grasp the concentration part of special teams, next season could be Miller Time.
“We don’t do that until next spring,” Edwards said. “He’s not ready to do that. He hasn’t been back their [all season].”
Jets Insider.com’s James J. Parziale recently spoke with the cornerback who likely will stepping in for Ty Law next season after Law’s expected departure.
JI: What grade would you give yourself during this rookie campaign?
Justin Miller: I always want to give myself the best grade but I think it was a great learning experience. Getting the opportunity to play while still developing is thr main thing.
JI: What is the biggest lesson for a rookie cornerback in the NFL?
Miller: For me it was just compete, compete, compete. You can’t take any plays off; you have to be ready at all times. You can’t get lackadaisical, that’s the main thing. Terminology and the playbook, once you get those down, you’re good.
JI: How has the length of the season compared to that of the college season impacted you?
Miller: It’s a lot longer than college. The season took a toll on me. I think everybody after their first season is a little worn out. I just kind of kept going to a new level.
JI: How did starting the final five games help your growth?
JM: I learned a lot. I played against a lot of great guys and defensively we all got comfortable going out there.
JI: Were you nervous during your first start?
JM: Just a little bit. There were a little bit of jitters but once I got out there it was a game and it’s on a again. You get that first series, you’re the starter and once your on the field you got to take care of your job.
JI: Who was the toughest receiver you went up against this season?
JM: All of them were tough but in my opinion, Randy Moss just because you can’t really gauge him. You can’t really gauge his speed or gauge the way he comes out of his breaks.
JI: What do you see when you return kicks?
JM: You kind of get tunnel vision. I can see things happening around me, but my eyes are fixed ahead. I can still see what’s going on on the sides of me. Sometimes I’m looking to cutback or whatever. Everyone’s vision is different but for the most part mine is a tunnel.
JI: What is the biggest difference in returning a kick and returning a punt?
JM: They’re (the coverage team) on you a lot faster. As a punt returner you’re sitting back and waiting for the ball to come down while everyone is coming at you. As a kick returner you have an opportunity to catch it and see the rest of the field. The punt return isn’t always like that.
**Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com for Part II of this exclucive chat with Justin Miller.