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Jets' Rex Ryan: Struggling Dee Milliner will be top rookie CB

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New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan insists this will not be a lost season for former Alabama defensive back and first-round draft pick Dee Milliner. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan insists this will not be a lost season for former Alabama defensive back and first-round draft pick Dee Milliner. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan insists this will not be a lost season for Dee Milliner.

No, not even after benching him twice already this season.

The New York Jets coach still believes the first-round draft pick will end up rebounding in a major way.

"He's close to being that player that we want," Ryan said Wednesday. "I will say this: By the time the 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. We anticipate that.

"He was the No. 1 cornerback selected, but that's how we feel about him. I think he's close. I really do."

Milliner has started four games, but has also dealt with a hamstring injury that sidelined him three games. He was benched in the second half against New England in Week 2, and again in the second quarter last Sunday against Cincinnati. Ryan says Milliner will be back in the starting secondary against New Orleans on Sunday.

"I think with Dee, when I went back and I watched that tape," Ryan said, "he's a lot closer than I think (he's) given credit for."

The problem is, there's not a lot on film from games to sway people to agree with the coach. After all, Milliner was the first cornerback taken in the draft after a standout career during which he won two national championships at Alabama.

Also at play is the fact that Milliner took Darrelle Revis' spot in the secondary, starting opposite Antonio Cromartie. Revis was considered one of the premier players at his position, and Cromartie has assumed his role as the No. 1 cornerback.

But Milliner was considered a starter from Day 1, despite the shoulder surgery that kept him out of the offseason training sessions and slowly getting up to speed during training camp.

There were 28 players drafted as cornerbacks after him, including three in the first round: Oakland's D.J. Hayden, Atlanta's Desmond Trufant and Minnesota's Xavier Rhodes. Trufant has started all seven of the Falcons' games, while Hayden and Rhodes have started one each.

"Oh, man, you feel bad," Milliner said of having to stand on the sideline and watch during games. "But, you know, it's for the better. I was out there making physical mistakes and they put other people out there, they put (Darrin) Walls in and he did a good job of finishing the game."

Against Cincinnati, Milliner gave up four receptions for 108 yards in just under a half. The previous week against the Patriots, he allowed six catches for 52 yards.

"I just see him getting better, I do," Ryan said. "And I know how bad he wants it. All facets, schematically, he's not making the mental errors, so I think that's a big thing. And just his technique, I see his technique coming. 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 going to be good."

Ryan also joked that this Sunday would be a good time for Milliner to have that kind of game. The Jets are taking on the high-powered Saints offense, with Drew Brees likely licking his chops at going after a rookie cornerback.

In fact, Milliner says, he expects to get picked on.

"I've put on film that plays get over me here and there," he said. "He watches film. He's one of the great quarterbacks in today's game. He's going to be out there and, of course, I'm the new kid out there. So, he's going to look to attack me on things."

Ryan has been careful with weighing Milliner's confidence, trying not to ruin it with poor performances. That's why he has pulled him twice this season.

"There are two positions I think that are critical with confidence — you want your guy confident (and) you don't want the confidence ever broken — I think that's cornerback and quarterback," Ryan said.

"I think that's just one of those things where there's a couple of ways of looking at it, but my thing is I want him champing at the bit to get back out there and then you purposely keep him back there."

Ryan said his father Buddy did that in Chicago with a young Mike Singletary, who overcame early struggles to become a Hall of Fame linebacker.

"I'm hoping it works out half as good as that one did," Ryan said, later adding, "It's just one of those things and eventually he gets the thing where you never worry about benching him ever again."

NOTES: G Willie Colon (calf), TE Jeff Cumberland (concussion), WR Stephen Hill (foot), WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and WR Jeremy Kerley (illness) did not practice. Holmes, who has missed four straight games, said he's "making good progress," but isn't sure if he'll play. ... C Nick Mangold (ribs) was limited in practice.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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