Rookies sometimes need tough love, and Dee Milliner received a humble dose two games into his NFL career.
The rookie cornerback, the ninth overall pick by the New York Jets this past April, was viewed as the most ready-made NFL corner in the draft. He had an excellent winning pedigree, great production at Alabama and played for Nick Saban in an NFL-like atmosphere in Tuscaloosa.
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But Milliner has struggled to adapt a little so far, which is not uncommon for such a demanding position. Although the Jets penciled him in as a Day One starter, they pulled out the eraser midway through the loss to the Patriots last week.
Milliner was benched mid-game, defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said, per The Star-Ledger, for fear that he might lose his confidence if the Patriots and noted assassin Tom Brady continued to pick on him.
"With Dee, it wasn't that we were unhappy with what we were seeing. It's just that the situation for us called for, OK, they're getting ready to take some shots at this kid. Rather than have him in a situation where he can get himself deflated, we decided to make the move and get a more experienced guy in there. And we did.
"We felt like it was the right thing to do. We're not down on him at all. He's got a chance to be a hell of a football player. And we don't want a rookie to go out there and get shell-shocked and not be able to come back. And we were concerned about that."
There's a little bit of coachspeak here because it's never a great thing when a player is sat down for his own good. But it's not necessarily a terrible thing, either. The Jets felt Milliner was a plug-and-play corner and made him a first-teamer from Jump Street, and maybe they moved a little too quickly on that assumption. But they also know from past experience what a few early humbling games can do to a young corner, as what happened to former first-rounder Kyle Wilson.
"You learn from your experiences," Thurman said. "Young corners, young nickels, when they're out there they become big targets. And you get an experienced offensive coordinator, like they have in New England, with an experienced quarterback, they're not dumb. They're looking to score points.
"In any situation like that, you expect a guy to go out and perform, but if you see an opportunity to make sure his confidence doesn't get shattered and he's gotta fight back — if we can ward that off we're gonna do that."
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Will Milliner start Sunday against the Bills? Thurman isn't saying, other than he's "practicing." So that's nice. At least he hasn't been demoted to waterboy. And Milliner, for his part, has owned up to his responsibility and understands this all is part of the process. Let's hope the Jets are handling this one the right way, and it appears they are taking all the right, cautious steps.
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