FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — This is Dee Milliner’s chance to prove that he was worth all of the hype in 2013. And more specifically, that he actually can stay healthy.
“They took a chance on me as a high pick, so I’ve got to live up to it,” said the cornerback, who was drafted ninth overall by the Jets. “My expectations are much higher than some things that coaches or players expect of me.”
It’s been a humbling fall for the former Alabama star, who named himself the “best cornerback in the NFL” during training camp two years ago. In the past three seasons, he’s played in a total of 21 games and been sidelined more times than fans would like to count.
But he’s determined to finally ditch his “bust” label.
“I see it sometimes,” he said of his reputation. “My brothers and family bring it up as a joke. I just laugh at it. You’ve gotta take the criticism.”
The Jets chose not to pick up his fifth-year option earlier this year, a move Milliner said he expected and also understood.
“Since I hadn’t played, he can’t just go off nothing. So Coach [Todd Bowles] just told me stay at it and they weren’t going to pick it up,” Milliner said. “So I can’t cry or do nothing about it . . . I wasn’t angry. I haven’t played too much, so I pretty much knew it wasn’t going to happen.”
But given the Jets’ cornerback situation, he now has an opportunity to prove himself in training camp. After deciding not to re-sign Antonio Cromartie, the Jets need to settle on a starter opposite Darrelle Revis. And with Revis currently sidelined by a wrist injury, Milliner has gotten plenty of reps with the first-team defense.
He impressed during Saturday’s practice, even picking off a pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick that caromed off the hands of receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. “I broke on the ball good, got my hand in there and it popped in the air and tried to bring it in,” Milliner said nonchalantly of his athletic play.
The last time he played on defense in an NFL game was Oct. 12, 2014 — the day he tore his Achilles against the Broncos. He tore a tendon in his right wrist during an Aug. 6 practice the following year and had surgery the next day. Milliner returned to action last November but was relegated to special teams.
It was difficult to deal with, but he understood Bowles’ decision.
“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.”
Though Milliner stopped short of calling this a prove-it year, he’s well aware of the stakes. “It’s just a year that I’ve got to go out there and play,” he said, adding that he focused on improving his flexibility, staying in shape and eating a more healthy diet this year. “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. And if I do get the opportunity, try to make the best of it.”
He believes he has a real shot at being a starter again, and that he can make it through a 16-game season for the first time in his career.
“I’m trying, I’m trying to do my best,” Milliner said. “I’m praying, hoping that I can stay healthy.”
Notes & quotes: Revis and running back Matt Forte (hamstring) did not practice for the third straight day . . . Asked if he’s concerned that right tackle Breno Giacomini (back) could miss the season opener, Bowles said, “Not at this point.” . . . The team’s first padded practice of training camp was interrupted by lightning and torrential downpours. Players and coaches continued practice indoors.