A week of second-guessing, and questioning is draft selection could have left Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner in a tailspin. Instead, Milliner played one of his best games this past Sunday in a 37-27 win over the Raiders.
Milliner looked nothing like the maligned player from a week before. In a game where the Jets' rookie quarterback was heralded, it was Milliner who turned in the better performance.
Benched midway through the second half of the Jets' Week 13 loss to the Dolphins, Milliner rebounded in Week 14 to silence the critics for at least one game. Milliner didn't put up huge numbers — he had just one tackle — in large part because his coverage was so good Raiders quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor simply didn't throw in his direction.
Milliner has been benched three times this season. He said his latest benching didn't affect his psyche going into the Raiders game.
“No, not at all, that's part of football. [You] always have to get better, have to improve [and] have to execute,” Milliner told Metro. “I've got teammates lifting me up, coaches telling me how to get better. Guys around me [are] staying positive, keeping me going. I wasn't affected at all.”
The coaching staff congratulated him on his performance after the game in what is hoped to be a sign of his development.
During the week, veteran safety Ed Reed sat next to Milliner in film study in an effort to mentor the rookie. Jets head coach Rex Ryan praised Milliner's practice effort from last week during his Monday press conference. If the coaching staff pointed something out early in the week, Milliner had it corrected by one of the next practices.
“I think he took the coaching this week in particular,” Ryan said.
After shoulder surgery shortly after the NFL Combine kept him out of rookie minicamp and offseason workouts, he then missed time when a contract holdout sidelined him for the first few days of training camp. Injuries have limited his practice time, making this a difficult first year in the NFL.
He's been exposed in man coverage on the field. Consistently beaten on the inside, Milliner isn't playing strong press coverage which is allowing shorter, faster wide receivers to beat him on routes over the middle.
Last week, Ryan named rookie quarterback Geno Smith the starter despite benching him the day before for the third time this season. He dodged questions throughout the week on Milliner, not exactly a glowing recommendation for a player who he has hyped throughout the season. Ryan eventually gave Milliner the nod on Friday and for the first time this season the rookie put together a complete performance.
Milliner agreed this was his best showing as a Jet.
“[You could] probably could say that because I didn't give up too much,” Milliner said. “[There] weren't any really big plays or anything.”
He had a nice pass breakup in the fourth quarter where he rose high in single coverage to bat away a fade route from McGloin to Rod Streater.
“I think it was mostly technique. I played my game, read my keys,” Milliner said. “Know when to press off, read the keys, watch their eyes. It felt really good out there today.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.