Two weeks ago, Jets safety Rontez Miles was walking out of the team's facility when he heard head coach Rex Ryan's voice behind him. Miles slowed down to walk out the door with his head coach.
An undrafted rookie free agent out of Division II California (Pa.) in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, Miles has spent this season shuttling between the practice squad and the Jets' active roster. He's a hard-hitting safety with plenty of potential even if he lacks the pedigree of a big college on his resume. But Miles created a national stir this past April when cameras at the NFL Combine caught a big Steelers tattoo on his upper left arm.
Born and raised on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Miles got the tattoo as a freshman in college. When it came time to run the 40-yard dash at the combine, he took off his warm-up jacket to reveal a sleeveless shirt and his Steelers tattoo.
The camera crews rushed up to get a shot of the tattoo. He hadn't even thought about it when he took his jacket off.
“If it could come off magically, with a rub off, I'd have did it. It will be there forever,” Miles told Metro. “People never look down and see the bridge or the '412.' It is about my roots. It blew up in the combine. It was blowing all the way up. People kept saying, 'Oh he got a tattoo so the Steelers would draft him.' That wasn't the case.”
As Miles got ready to head to his car, he and Ryan spoke on the way out. He had heard the jokes about the tattoo from his first day at the Jets facility. Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman gave him a good ribbing. Even his teammates at the time, many of whom never made the team, made jokes about it.
The Steelers tattoo is set over the skyline of his beloved Pittsburgh. There's a bridge and the '412' area code for the city. Even though Miles has yet to play in a game, Ryan still remembered the ink on Miles' left arm.
“He said, 'You are going to get on this field soon; we have to do something about the tattoo,'” Miles said. “But it was a joke, he laughed it off. I said, 'If I can get on this field, I would do anything to get this tattoo off.'”
He said he hasn't been asked to remove the tattoo by Ryan, who himself has a tattoo of his wife wearing the jersey of quarterback Mark Sanchez on his upper right shoulder.
“If they asked me to wear a sleeve on my arm to cover it up or something like that, of course I would,” Miles said. “That's just about respect right there and I'd definitely do that.”
Actual removal of the tattoo, he said, would be too expensive and too painful.
“If we won the Super Bowl, I'd get a Jets tattoo. Or if I get an extended contract for eight years, then yeah,” Miles said. “Football is going to fade away but this is my roots. I can look back on this, wherever I am, and remember where I came from, who I am.”
Miles points to his left arm.
“I love everything about Pittsburgh — all the sports. I grew up watching the Steelers,” Miles said. “I like the Penguins; I like the Pirates. I even like the Pittsburgh Power, our arena team. It really has nothing to do with the team. It is about roots.
“I've got new roots now. I look forward to establishing new ones and maybe new traditions.”
And maybe a tattoo for the team that pays his salary as well.
“Yeah, we will see. I'd love to be here awhile. This is a great locker room. Rex is a great coach,” Miles said. “I can't rule it out. I hope I'm here a long time. I hope this becomes part of who I am.”
Miles then rolls down his left sleeve and puts on his jacket and heads out of the locker room. He's in New York now and he has a defensive meeting with the rest of his Jets teammates.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.