Florham Park, NJ – It’s probably time to cut ties with Dee Milliner. He is halfway through his rookie season, and it has become clear that he will never live up to the potential he showed in Alabama.
I’m completely joking, but I’m sure that previous paragraph didn’t seem that outrageous to many of you.
Milliner has had injury issues since rookie minicamp, and hasn’t impressed in the limited action he’s seen as he’s already been benched in two separate games. That’s not what you want to read about from an All-American corner who went ninth overall in this past draft.
But it’s far too early to call Milliner a bust. He missed time early in camp due to a holdout, and has dealt with various injuries since. Cornerback is already a tough transition from college to the NFL, now imagine less time to prepare in the offseason AND having to learn Rex Ryan’s scheme.
There was a strong belief when he came out that he would be NFL ready because he played for Nick Saban and in the SEC, arguably the toughest conference in college football at the time. A fine point, but it’s also well known that Saban doesn’t teach NFL technique to his corners. Most notably they aren’t asked to backpedal. That’s one of the many technique adjustments Milliner had to make in his transition to the NFL, something that would’ve been nice to work on during the offseason.
That’s not even getting into the recent history of Alabama cornerbacks taken in the first round; the most recent two being Dre Kirkpatrick and Kareem Jackson.
Kirkpatrick is in his second year with the Bengals, and similarly to Milliner, has already been labeled a bust by the fans. Like the Jets, the Bengals have not given up on him. Now that Leon Hall is out for the season, Kirkpatrick has the chance to work his way back into a starting spot.
That doesn’t sound really comforting does it? Well Jackson also struggled his rookie year. In fact, in a game against the Chargers he let up five catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns against Patrick Crayton and Seyi Ajirotutu. Like Milliner he was benched.
His second year in the league wasn’t much better. But by his third season he was regarded as one of the better young corners in the league. Jackson picked off four passes and held receivers to a 47.7% catch rate, which was sixth lowest in the league.
Milliner is struggling. He needs to refine his technique and improve his tackling, but he is far from the first corner to go through this. For another example look no further than the Giants.
Corey Webster was a second round pick in 2005 who fell so far down the depth chart most fans forgot he was even on the team. He was only pressed into duty in 2007 when the team was hit by injuries. How did he respond? By having the best stretch of his career, acting as the Giants top corner as they went on to win the Super Bowl. Simply put, patience is key.
“[Milliner]’s close to being that player that we want,” Rex Ryan said hopefully yesterday. “I will say this, by the time the season’s over, I think he will be the best rookie corner and playing better than any rookie corner in this year’s draft.”
“I’ve just got to continue to work and get better and just see how things go,” added Milliner. “That’s the only thing I can worry about.”
More than technique or physical issues, the problem affecting Milliner seems to be confidence. It’s amazing how lost out there he looks. That’s something that can be fixed, and he has one hell of a coach to do it.
“He just needs to have some success tied along with it, and I think that’s what’s missing,” said Ryan. “Get an interception or two and I think he’s going to be good. He’s a smart young man. He wants it and I think he’ll get there.”
Look back at those Alabama tapes. It might be hard watching him make play after play following last weekend’s debacle, but what you see is a confident corner, and a corner with all the physical tools to succeed in this league. Give him some time to develop. It might not even happen this year. But Dee Milliner will be a good cornerback in this league.
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