Rex gives Milliner another start, shot in arm

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
6:10
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Struggling rookie cornerback Dee Milliner will remain in the starting lineup when the New York Jets take on the New Orleans Saints this coming Sunday.

Coach Rex Ryan said so Wednesday -- and he didn't stop there.

"I think with Dee, one thing when I went back, I watched that tape -- he's a lot closer than I think given credit for," Ryan said. "He's close to being that player that we want. And I will say this -- by the time this season's over, I think he will be the best rookie corner and playing better than any rookie corner in this year's draft. I don’t think there’s any doubt.

[+] EnlargeDee Milliner
AP Photo/David KohlDee Milliner was benched against the Bengals after struggling in the first half.
"You anticipate that -- he was the No. 1 corner selected -- but that's what I feel about it. I think he's close, I really do."

Ryan's feelings have seemingly changed from three days ago, when he benched Milliner in the second quarter of the Jets' 49-9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In less than a half, Milliner gave up four receptions for 108 yards.

Or, maybe Ryan was just trying to deliver a confidence boost to the 22-year-old Alabama product, drafted ninth overall, who was supposed to replace former All-Pro Darrelle Revis.

Milliner has played in just five games thus far, missing three because of a hamstring injury. But Ryan has already benched him twice -- he also did so in the team's Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots.

After the Bengals game, Ryan said he benched Milliner "because, physically, he wasn't getting it done." But he sang a very different tune Wednesday, saying he sees Milliner improving "in all facets."

"I think schematically he's not making the mental errors, so I think that's a big thing," Ryan said. "And just his technique -- I see his technique coming, and now he just needs to have some success tied along with it, and I think that's what's missing. Get an interception or two, and I think he's gonna be good. He's a smart, young man, he wants it. And I think he'll get there."

Milliner, speaking to reporters following Ryan's news conference, said he was happy about remaining a starter.

When asked about Ryan's prediction that Milliner would be the best rookie cornerback in the league, the player wasn't nearly as brash as his head coach.

"I just gotta continue to work and get better and just see how things go," Milliner said. "That's the only thing I can worry about."

The Bengals racked up 402 total yards last week, 323 of them in the air. And next up is the Saints -- third in the NFL in passing yards per game (310.7), and fifth in points (28.0).

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees spoke with New York reporters via conference call Wednesday, and was asked about Milliner.

"I see a young, athletic, talented player," Brees said. "I think every young player has growing pains at times."

But you better believe Brees will try to pick on the rookie come Sunday.

Is Milliner really that close? Rex better be right.
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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