Jets cornerback Dee Milliner could miss opener with ankle sprain
Dee Milliner is out for a few weeks, Dexter McDougle is done for the year and the New York Jets have a huge question mark at cornerback.
Rex Ryan still isn't sweating it.
"It's not a panic situation," the coach said Monday. "It's an opportunity."
Still, it's not quite ideal.
Milliner, the Jets' top cornerback, has a sprained left ankle that could sideline him for a few weeks, jeopardizing his availability for the opener.
"I never said I had to have the best corner in football," Ryan said. "That's not it. My defenses work, period. I don't care what it is. We take what we have, and then we work around it."
Milliner was injured during practice Sunday, about a half-hour after McDougle tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ending his season. He went down after defending wide receiver Quincy Enunwa on a long pass and writhed in pain on the sideline at SUNY Cortland.
"I was in a lot of pain," Milliner said. "I didn't know what was happening, what was going on. I just knew my ankle and leg were hurting."
He had an X-ray and a high ankle sprain hasn't been ruled out. The team is waiting for the swelling to subside before giving him an MRI, which should clarify how long he will be out. Milliner was at practice wearing a walking boot on his left foot.
"You don't want to get out there and rush things and mess it up even more, or get out there and you're not 100 percent and give up plays," Milliner said. "I'm just going to be cautious about it and do what the trainers and doctors say."
Milliner made headlines earlier in camp when he declared that he has the confidence to believe he's the No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. Some teammates half-jokingly dubbed him "Franchise," but also recognized how vital his improvement in his second season would be to the success of the defense.
Ryan, however, downplayed that notion.
"He's just one of 11 guys," Ryan said. "Dee's a heck of a football player, there's no doubt. I believe that. But again, it's the unit. It's not the individual."
Ryan acknowledged that a shutdown cornerback such as Darrelle Revis allows a defense to play different schemes, but that it isn't always necessary for a top-notch unit.
"We're not a one-trick pony thing," he said. "We're not a team that tries to stick a square peg into a round hole. We'll take what we have and we'll make it work."
Dimitri Patterson, another possible starter, has missed the last few days with injuries to his quadriceps and ankle. That injury, along with those to Milliner, McDougle and backup Jeremy Reeves (knee), leave the Jets shaky in the secondary.
Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster, Johnny Patrick, Ras-I Dowling and Brandon Dixon are the only remaining healthy cornerbacks -- and none is considered of starting caliber, although Wilson works regularly in the slot.
That's why the Jets shifted safety Antonio Allen to cornerback at practice, trying to see how the former college linebacker would fare. So far, so good. Allen had two interceptions Monday and could be an option for Ryan.
"He's kind of been in our back pocket," Ryan said. "We can talk about how he's got Pro Bowl ability as a safety, but he can also play corner."
The move could smack of desperation to those who criticized general manager John Idzik for failing to land a top free-agent cornerback in the offseason after cutting Antonio Cromartie. The Jets were said to have had interest in players such as Vontae Davis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but they signed elsewhere. They also reportedly had no interest in a reunion with Revis, who signed with rival New England.
"We have no regrets whatsoever," Idzik said.
Idzik acknowledged that the Jets are "always searching" for players who can help, and that remains the case at cornerback. But the market is thin, and the Jets might have to wait for teams to cut high-salaried veterans.
"We'll search," Idzik said. "I think the first order of business is seeing what our guys can do, and now they have the stage to do it. Let's see how they react."
For Ryan, notorious for looking at the positives and rallying his team around them, the recent injuries make the situation anything but dire.
"This is going to work. We just don't necessarily know how yet," Ryan said. "One thing we know for a fact: This defense will be an outstanding defense."