Three times he’s missed games due to injury. Two times he’s been benched midgame.
While the ninth overall pick hasn’t yet reached his and his team’s lofty expectations, however, head coach Rex Ryan made it clear during this afternoon’s news conference that it’s only a matter of time before things click. And that time could be rapidly approaching.
“When I went back and watched that tape [from the Cincinnati game],” Rex said, “he’s a lot closer than I think he’s given credit for. He’s close to being that player that we want.”
So close, in fact, that Ryan said he will stick with Milliner as his starting cornerback opposite
“I’m happy about the decision,” Milliner said, adding of his approach, “Just continue to work and get better each day. Continue to try to get better as the games go.”
He's happy to be given another chance, yet understanding of why that opportunity was taken away from him during a game in which we gave up five touchdowns through the air. After being benched in our first matchup vs. New England, Milliner seemed to take the decision in stride, and after getting pulled from the game by his head coach Sunday, he’s once again handling the situation as well as could be expected.
“You feel bad,” Milliner said of standing and watching from the sidelines, “but you know it’s for the better. I was out there making physical mistakes, and they put [Darrin] Walls in and he did a good job finishing the game up.”
For Rex, it’s not all about the mistakes, though. “It’s about confidence and mentality, and everything else,” he said. “I want him chomping at the bit to get back out there, and then you purposely keep him back there.”
Ryan said he learned this technique from his father, Buddy Ryan, who once benched LB Mike Singletary early in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career following an in-game mistake. When Singletary repeatedly asked to get back in the game, Buddy let him continue to ride the bench and responded, "Nah, we’re trying to win this game."
“Now I’m hoping it works out about half as good as that one did,” Rex said. "Eventually he gets to the point where you never worry about benching him ever again.”
And while it might not be the case at this moment, the coach feels confident that the first cornerback taken in this year’s draft will in fact be the best rookie corner by season’s end because he sees his young player improving “in all facets.”
“I’ve just got to control my part of getting better,” Milliner said, “keep working, control the things that I can do, and hopefully that's a true statement.”
“Schematically, he’s not making the mental errors so I think that’s a big thing,” Rex said. “I see his technique coming, and now he just needs to have some success tied along with it. I think that’s what’s missing. 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.”
For Ryan, the question’s not if Dee Milliner will come around, but when. Set to face QB Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday, Rex said, “That would be a great time to start.”