Is there a more confounding player in the Jets’ locker room than Justin Miller?
Sure, the Jets second-year cornerback is going to the Pro Bowl in February as the only representative of the Jets this year.
But Miller is going to Hawaii as a kickoff returner, not a cornerback. In fact, he’s had a hard time getting himself onto the field as a cornerback because of rampant inconsistency at the position.
He deserves high marks for his work as a kickoff returner, because Miller has consistently shown himself to be one of the most dangerous returners in the NFL the last two years with a career 27.3-yard average entering Monday night’s game against the Dolphins in Miami.
He, too, has taken two kickoffs back for touchdowns this season and has three in the last two seasons.
But why has he not used that talent to make himself a better cornerback?
Miller was essentially handed the starting job as a rookie last season, starting the final eight games, and he looked to be a lock as a starter this year.
But his inconsistency has maddened Eric Mangini to the point where he virtually banished him from any secondary play for a period of time.
Miller has since worked himself back into some playing time and has made some nice plays. Against the Bills, he had a forced fumble and recovery on one key play. He also had a tackle of Bills’ running back Willis McGahee for a two-yard loss.
Those are the kinds of aggressive plays the Jets thought they were going to get from Miller when they drafted him in the second round in 2005. Yet they’ve been too far and between and have been mixed in with too many bone-headed plays like the two inexcusable penalties he was called for in last week’s game against the Vikings.
Miller was called for a personal foul in Minnesota after the Jets had the Vikings backed up deep in their own territory. The penalty moved the Vikings out of dangerous field position and it drew some rare public ire from Mangini, who lit into Miller on the sideline.
Miller also was called for a holding penalty on a punt that was fair caught.
"It's something that goes back to consistency," Mangini said. "Penalties are controllable. Penalties based on emotion are even more controllable. So yes, that is annoying."
At corner, Miller has played in 30 NFL games and started 12 and yet his next interception will be the first of his career. That’s an odd statistic a player as aggressive as he is with good speed and size for the position.
Asked what Miller needs to improve on most, Mangini said, "When you channel that emotion into all the right areas, you make a lot of really big plays and strides. That's something that he's working at and we're going to continue to work at with him to get him more involved.
"Justin is working at it and he's made a lot of strides and he'll continue to make strides," Mangini went on. "As long as you care and you work at it and you make progress, then with his ability level, it will be all uphill, all positive."
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
One of the fascinating case studies in coach-player relationship has played out before our eyes this season with Mangini and receiver Laveranues Coles.
The two have bonded in an almost grudging way (at least on the part of Coles) and have developed an intriguing relationship.
If an outsider who didn’t know Mangini or Coles came into the Jets’ locker room and listened to Coles speak about his head coach he or she would think the relationship between the two is strained.
In fact, a Minneapolis newspaper last week completely mis-read the relationship between Coles and Mangini and even made the assumption that the team doesn’t care for Mangini.
A story comparing the two teams and handing out “edges’’ to each side before the Jets and Vikings played gave the Vikings the “edge’’ at coaching, giving the nod Minnesota coach Brad Childress over Mangini.
The basis of that thought came from a comment Coles made to Minnesota reporters during a conference call that week. Coles was asked what he thinks of Mangini and he said, “What I think doesn’t matter.’’
That’s merely Coles’ quirky way, not a shot at Mangini.
The newspaper took that and ran with it, stating that, based on Coles’ dislike for Mangini the rest of the team feels the same way.
The truth couldn’t be further from that.
Mangini, in fact, could not have been more complimentary of Coles this week upon his snub from the Pro Bowl voters.
“He reminds me a lot of (Patriots’ receiver) Troy Brown in the sense that their leadership style is more on the field,’’ Mangini said. “Laveranues, the way that he practices, whether he is banged up or isn't banged up, he has that sheer toughness, the consistency and the ability to make plays whether he's in traffic or not in traffic.
“Where some receivers are very dominant on the edge outside the numbers, but ‘LC’ can go inside. He can make plays on the slip screens. His consistency on the field is a good example for the young guys in terms of how you should conduct yourself and the intangibles that you're looking for.
“What I knew about Laveranues prior to the season was how difficult he was to cover. He's everything I'm looking for in terms of being smart, tough, hardworking, competitive, selfless and football is important to him. It means something to him.
“And,’’ Mangini went on, “he provides comic relief.’’
Indeed, it was Coles who gave Mangini the nickname “The Penguin,’’ which has not only stuck but taken on a life of its own. Mangini now receives all kinds of penguin-related items in the mail and he’s turned the tables on Coles a few times, too.
“I grew up with brothers and there was a lot of humor at each other's expense throughout that process,’’ Mangini said. “You learn to find the humor in that and you learn to give it back. It's that give-and-take that's important.
“I thought the penguin thing was probably the funniest thing. That was his high water mark. I haven't heard all the other ones, I'm sure there have been some other funny ones, but those are the ones that I'm aware of. I just got a gift in the mail that was cookies in the shape of a penguin.’’
In the early stages of the nickname, when Coles wasn’t sure Mangini was aware of it, Mangini showed an instructional video to the team and asked Coles “what bird he thought that we could learn from. I think he said the hawk or something and the crowd went crazy,’’ Mangini said.
“Then we showed 'March of the Penguins' and taught off of that,’’ he went on. “I learned a lot about penguins that day. They have great hearing and they are important to the ecosystem.’’
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN MIAMI
-It looks like running back Cedric Houston, who’s nursing an injured calf suffered in last week’s game, either won’t play or will be hobbled. If you go by the way Mangini operates, he’ll probably keep Houston down and use Kevan Barlow and Leon Washington.
-Chad Pennington is 5-1 against the Dolphins in his career with eight touchdown passes and one interception and a 98.3 passer rating.
-Coles has made nine of his 31 career touchdown catches against the Dolphins.
-Special teams could be an edge for the Jets, who not only have the top kickoff returner in Miller, but are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in punt coverage. They’re the only team in the league that has not allowed a punt return of at least 20 yards. The longest return against them this season has gone for only 14 yards.