- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Safety Antonio Allen, moved to cornerback Monday because of a spate of injuries at the position, will start for the New York Jets Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. That means it could be green on Green -- Allen covering star wide receiver A.J. Green.
So much for easing into a new position.
Coach Rex Ryan didn't offer an elaborate explanation, saying Tuesday with a laugh, "What the heck? Let's put him out there. They have a pretty decent [receiver] out there."
Such is the desperate state of the Jets' cornerback position. A few days ago, the Jets were confident in their group of corners, believing they had an emerging star (Dee Milliner) and enough talent around him to handle the league's top passing attacks -- many of whom are on their schedule.
But on Sunday, in a span of 30 minutes, Milliner suffered a severe ankle sprain and rookie backup Dexter McDougle went down with a season-ending knee injury. Projected starter Dimitri Patterson already was on the sideline with a variety of minor injuries.
On Monday morning before practice, Ryan approached Allen and told him he was being switched to cornerback. That, Allen said, was the first time the notion of playing cornerback entered his mind. He went out and intercepted two passes.
Allen, not shy on confidence, scoffed at the perception the Jets are desperate.
"Let's see what happens," he said. "I'll make some plays, I know that. I'm going out there confident, no [holds] barred."
Allen was a hybrid linebacker/safety at South Carolina, catching the Jets' attention with his playmaking ability. They took him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, making him a full-time safety. He has made 23 starts in two seasons, best known for his man-to-man coverage ability against athletic tight ends. He played reasonably well against Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.
But now he's a corner, preparing to face one of the game's elite receivers in Green.
"Well, if he can cover that kid, he can cover them all," Ryan said. "I think if he can cover that kid, we know we're in good shape because that guy is about as good as it gets. I think our entire fan base would sleep a lot better. I don't know if he can do that. I don't know if anybody can."
The Jets haven't given a timetable on Milliner's return, but he's expected to miss a few weeks -- meaning his availability for the season opener is in jeopardy. On Tuesday, they signed journeyman LeQuan Lewis for depth purposes.
Allen made one of the biggest plays last season, scoring on an interception return against the Patriots. Ryan believes Allen has the size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), instincts and temperament to play corner, yet he acknowledges he never considered the idea until the injuries hit.
"I think they've improved tremendously," Allen said of his coverage skills. "All the [critics] telling me I can't play 'man,' I can't cover tight ends and all that kind of stuff ... [I'm] just proving them wrong, man. I work at my craft and being who I am."
Allen said he's embracing the change, noting not many players have the versatility to play safety and cornerback. He never thought about switching, though. Asked to say the first time he thought about cornerback, he said simply, "[Monday], probably."
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