As everyone waits impatiently, NFL football is almost upon us. Training camp started this past week for the New York Jets in Cortland and as expected, there are a myriad of questions to be answered.
Without dancing around it, let’s get right to what worries most observers when looking at the New York Jets: the secondary. There’s a huge challenge presented to this position group to overcome its deficiencies to contribute to a cocky and gifted defense that aims to be tops in the league.
We know the Jets have a front seven capable of stopping the run and being the most dominant in the NFL. Now the secondary that needs to prove their worth on the field with the rest of a defense that’s already done so. The concerns in the defensive backfield have been well documented and spoken about since the free agency period.
Even though they owned the line of scrimmage in 2013, the defensive unit as a whole wasn’t as effective as they could’ve been because of the issues in the back. This defensive backfield is one with talent and potential in both positions but also one of many question marks due to inconsistency and a high level of inexperience.
At safety, the Jets have upgraded and don’t look bad at all. It’ll be a three man rotation headlined by Antonio Allen and first round pick Calvin Pryor, featuring seasoned vet Dawan Landry with Jaiquawn Jarrett in that mix as well. Safety was a position of need in the draft and the Jets think the hard-hitting Pryor (No. 18, Louisville) is exactly what they need to impact the game from the secondary.
The task for the Jets’ safeties is to turn the deep area in to a no-fly zone by executing their assignments; many of which will be helping out the cornerbacks, who may desperately need it on one side or the other.
Dee Milliner’s role on this team and its importance cannot be understated. Milliner, a first round pick from Alabama in 2013, had a rookie year that I would love to call forgettable but can’t. Anyone who watches this team would remember that his first 12 games were a horror show—it frankly looked like Dee didn’t even belong in the NFL.
The final quarter of the season, Milliner was a positive and showed signs of why he was a stud in the SEC and a top-10 pick. The attitude, physicality and athleticism that had him owning receivers in college. Rex Ryan and gang green nation alike are hoping that his struggles at this level have humbled him into being better prepared to play in his sophomore season, where his responsibility will increase drastically.
He won’t shy away from a challenge—Milliner isn’t a player lacking confidence in himself. He even went far enough to say he was the best corner in the league over the weekend. While we know that to be untrue and also absurd, let’s remember his answer is not being presented in the same context the question was. And no matter what he said, there’s something admirable about a guy who is stepping into a much larger role yet remains unafraid despite having had such enormous struggles.
That ‘can and will do’ attitude falls right in line with the rest of the Jets defense and a Ryan-coached team as a whole. Jet fans hold out hope that #27 makes leaps and bounds between years one and two. Plus, he’ll have to work pretty hard the first few weeks of the season to back up his own words. One would imagine that maybe Dee is motivating himself; now he has to play better.
Especially since he’s undoubtedly this team’s new No. 1 cornerback.
By most opinion and analysis Milliner has all the tools necessary to make the next step in becoming a reliable NFL corner and this is the time in order to make the Jets defense as problematic for opponents as it wants to be. It’s a nerve-racking proposition right now, but there’s a ton that lies in the hands of Dee Milliner in 2014. Fans bleeding green and white are looking to Milliner to fill a void they haven’t had to worry about so much the last few years.
The safety net of Antonio Cromartie is gone and Milliner will be up against opposing teams’ top targets each and every week. In especially Rex’s defense but in any it’s integral to the success of the unit that the top cornerback can hold his own with the elite receivers he’s going up against. The Jets are incredibly thin at the position and Ryan isn’t going to want to use safety help on Milliner’s side of the field when the other side is perhaps in even more peril.
In man-to-man coverage Dee needs to be the player he was down the stretch and to show the capability of needing no help—not being the new Darrelle Revis, because that pressure is too great. Just not allowing himself to be the area of exploit in the Jets defense.
This is the season where we find out if Milliner was worth that No. 9 overall pick and whether he can be the answer the Jets are looking for at CB moving forward.
The Jets signed oft-injured veteran cornerback Dimitri Patterson to join Milliner on the other side. The move was made to avoid a complete lack of experience at the corner position and put somebody there with proven skills at the NFL level. The issue with Patterson’s performance is almost always related to his health, which has led to inconsistent play and games missed. He’s rarely healthy and the way it currently stands, how can we be confident he’ll remain on the field?
The hope is that Patterson won’t only remain good to go but that at least one of the young and inexperienced cornerbacks can emerge into an important role. If of the young corners like Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, Ras-I Dowling, Ellis Lankster or Dexter McDougle prove themselves worthy then the Jets defense will be one of the scariest units in the league as whole. Patterson would then be able to move from the outside into the slot, where he’s most effective.
There is a place for this secondary to succeed with its athleticism and talent at safety and even with Milliner at cornerback. Chances of success will come even more so on the backs of an imposing defensive line and an improved pass rush; Muhammad Wilkerson is ready for another year at top form and veteran sack artist Jason Babin was recently brought in to help in that department as well.
For the Jets to succeed it’ll truly be a team effort on the defensive side of the ball, with he front seven leading the way and the secondary not willing to relinquish the big play. The defensive backfield could very well be the last piece of the puzzle before the Jets defense overpowers those opposing it.
The quality of New York’s defensive front is going to persuade teams to take shots down the field, much like they did in 2013. That’s where the defensive line and linebackers can’t help you anymore. The ball is going to be in the air an awful lot and the secondary now has the challenge of adding the final touches to what could be a suffocating defense.
Are they up to the challenge? Only another six weeks or so until we find out.