Jets' Dee Milliner healthy, eager to prove he's no 'bust'
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Dee Milliner knows what people are saying about him, and most of it is far from flattering.
Expectations were high for the 2013 first-round draft pick, but injuries have hindered his career and led to some questioning his heart, his ability to stay healthy and garnered plenty of negative reactions from fans and media. The New York Jets cornerback couldn't disagree more with the doubters.
''No, I won't say a bust,'' Milliner said after a recent training camp practice. ''I ain't been on the field. Injuries here and there. I've just got to stay at it and when the opportunity comes, hopefully I make the best of it.''
This is likely a make-or-break year for Milliner, who could be a free agent after this season since the Jets did not pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
He has been healthy so far this summer and had a solid offseason, providing a glimmer of hope that perhaps he could make an impact on Todd Bowles' defense this season.
''It's just a year that I've just got to go out there and play,'' Milliner said. ''I can't be injured, can't be on the sideline. I've got to go out there and try to compete for a job.''
Staying on the field has been no easy task for Milliner, who has played in just 21 out of 48 games over his first three NFL seasons.
''I'm trying, I'm trying to do my best,'' he said. ''I'm praying, hoping that I can stay healthy.''
Milliner tries to laugh off the negative chatter about him and use it as motivation.
''I might be at home, doing something and my brothers might say, `Somebody called you a bust,''' he said. ''He knows that I'm going to pop (off) the couch and probably go work or something. They take it as a joking matter, but at the same time I take it serious. I just want to be out there and be able to play.''
He came to the Jets as the No. 9 overall pick after a terrific college career at Alabama, where he helped lead the Crimson Tide to two national championships. The laundry list of injuries has been lengthy, though, in a short amount of time.
Milliner started his NFL career slowly during the offseason of his rookie year while recovering from shoulder surgery. In 2014, he suffered a high ankle sprain during training camp and played just three games after tearing the Achilles tendon in his right leg.
He made it back for training camp last summer, but then injured a tendon in his right wrist and needed surgery that kept him out for half the season. When Milliner came back, he was used exclusively on special teams - something that was frustrating at times for him.
''But guys on our team were playing great and making great plays, so you keep those guys out there because they're doing great things,'' he said. ''And when I get an opportunity to get out there and do it, or if I can help on special teams, I'll help them.''
Milliner, whose three career interceptions came when he was a rookie, hasn't played on defense in a game since tearing his Achilles on October 12, 2014.
''I want to be back out there,'' he said, ''and get a chance to be on defense and play.''
With Darrelle Revis working his way back from offseason wrist surgery, Milliner has been getting lots of snaps on defense this summer, including with the starters. While Buster Skrine and Marcus Williams are expected to be in the rotation to start opposite Revis, a healthy Milliner could give Bowles something else to consider.
''He's playing fast, he's healthy and he's running around out there,'' Bowles said. ''I just look forward to him improving.''
Milliner credits taking some yoga classes to improve his flexibility while focusing on getting into even better shape while sticking to a healthy diet.
While watching mostly from the sideline during practices this offseason, Revis has liked what he has seen from Milliner.
''You can tell he's very motivated this year, and that's great,'' Revis said. ''He's been set back by a lot of injuries throughout his career and now he's healthy, so it's good. He's making a lot of strides.''
Milliner insists he has no doubts about his abilities and believes he can still be a regular NFL starter. He also said he wasn't angry that the Jets didn't pick up his fifth-year option, knowing that he hasn't done much on the field - yet - to warrant faith from the team.
''They took a chance on me as a high pick, so I've got to live up to it,'' he said. ''My expectations are much higher than some things that coaches or players expect of me. I expect the same thing of myself.''
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