Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner walked into positional meetings on Thursday afternoon with a new T-shirt given to him by future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. The shirt is black with a football in the center, framed by a faux “Wanted” sign in the style of the posters from the Old West.
It reads on the top line “Wanted: In the air or on the ground” while the bottom line simply says “$20,000.” It is a poignant and understated way for the Jets secondary to remember they are near the bottom of the league with just five interceptions and two forced fumbles.
In comes Reed, a player who head coach Rex Ryan credits as having tremendous instincts and perhaps the backend finally has a playmaker to start creating some turnovers.
“Coming in here, he's a great guy, an icon of football,” Milliner told Metro. “He came with the shirts, he gave them out. We're going to wear them around. It's a big thing, we want to hawk the ball. This is a real thing. As a [defensive back], you want to make plays and get interceptions.”
The point of emphasis for the Jets has been a season-long struggle. The team has struggled not just creating turnovers but with inconsistent play in the backend. Antonio Cromartie, after a Pro Bowl season a year ago, has been a shell of his former self. He has struggled against small, shifty wide receivers and was burned a week ago on a long touchdown pass in Buffalo. Milliner has been erratic and unpredictable in his play and safeties Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Josh Bush have been victimized by blown assignments.
They secondary has given up 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more this season, tied for fourth-most in the league. The 19 passing touchdowns allowed are tied for sixth-most in the league.
Last season, even with Darrelle Revis missing after a Week 3 knee injury, they finished No. 2 in pass defense and allowed only 19 passing touchdowns.
Ryan loves to boast about a defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league against the run, but won't necessarily blame the secondary for struggling.
“[It is] not necessarily the secondary, it’s just the fact that the big play [has been] the Achilles’ heel of our defense. Like that’s it, that’s what’s preventing us being an elite defense right now. Obviously we’re playing the run better than anybody in the league and it’s not close,” Ryan said. “Go ahead, run it if you want. We’ll see what happens to you. But if we fix — and when we fix — our Achilles’ heel, which has been the deep ball against [us], when we get that fixed, I think we’ll move into what we all expect.”
The Ravens have opened up on offense this year. While they've struggled with their own inconsistencies, they already have 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more this season after having just 12 such plays all of last season.
“I expect everything on Sunday; I always prepare,” Reed said. “I don't know what they're going to come out there [with].”
To be clear, while Reed printed up the “Wanted” T-shirts and distributed them to the secondary, it was simply a message and he won't be opening up the checkbook to pay for plays.
“If he wants to do that, he'll be real big,” Milliner said with a laugh.
As for the addition to his closet, Milliner said it will get immediate use.
“Most definitely, will wear it home,” Milliner said. “Hopefully wake up, make some plays tomorrow in practice and carry it through the game.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.