During New York Jets OTAs earlier this month, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said Dee Milliner needed to be in “world-class shape” to become a top-flight cornerback in the NFL, and he lamented the number of practices the former Stanhope Elmore and Alabama star had missed since being selected with the ninth pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
That’s why when the Jets break minicamp on Thursday, Milliner won’t use the month before the team gathers for training camp in Cortland, N.Y., for rest and relaxation.
“No vacation time, man,” Milliner said. “I’ve got to work.”
Milliner has participated in the Jets’ three-day minicamp this week after being limited in the previous offseason workouts. Of the Jets’ nine OTAs, Milliner was fully active for only four as he dealt with a tight hamstring.
Ryan said it was important that Milliner participated in minicamp.
“I want him feeling great about himself when he leaves,” Ryan said, “and work his tail off this next month and be ready to roll.”
Milliner also got a chance to work with the Jets’ new-look secondary. At minicamp, Milliner was paired with former Tuskegee standout Dimitri Patterson at cornerback with rookie Calvin Pryor and Antonio Allen at safeties on the first-team defense. Milliner started 12 games and Allen nine for the Jets last season. Patterson was limited to six games and four starts for the Miami Dolphins last season because of injuries.
“You want to get a feel for them, and they get a feel for you, how you play,” Milliner said. “You can start communicating with them now, so during the season it’ll be second-hand.”
Ryan said he’d liked what he’d seen from Milliner now that he was back on the field, but he is expecting more in the former prep and collegiate All-American’s second season.
“I really like the way Dee played (Tuesday),” Ryan said. “But you know how I feel about him, the jump I expect him to take. It’s not going to be easy, but I certainly think he has the ability. And again that confidence. At that position, man, so much of it is about confidence. I know Dee’s ready to go. I know he expects big things from himself and I think his teammates expect big things from him, too.”
As long as he can stay on the field. The Jets want Milliner to be their shutdown corner and play the way he did down the stretch of his rookie season. Over the final four games of 2013, Milliner got his hands on 12 passes. He made his first NFL interception in the next-to-last game of the year, then picked off two in the 2013 finale. But Milliner missed three games with a hamstring injury after he missed the post-draft workouts because of shoulder surgery, then parts of training camp with an Achilles injury.
“In a game, there’s not going to be times for me to come out of the game for having a tight hamstring,” Milliner said. “Rex is just saying stay in shape. As a DB you’ve got to stay in shape anyway. Receivers can switch off, but DBs are not going to get too many substitutions. So Rex is just saying be ready to line up, run every snap and make plays.”