Heading into the season, it looked like it was just a matter of time before Jets coach Rex Ryan was going to be fired. Ryan was believed to be saddled with a roster that many predicted would lose a lot more games than they would win. The hiring of John Idzik also didn't bode well as general managers generally like to hire coaches they choose rather than stick with someone in place from the previous regime.
Through eight games, Ryan has coached his team to four victories, which is more than some people thought they'd win all season. One of Ryan's trademark characteristics, and the driving force behind his success, is his player-friendly style, which was on full display Wednesday as he announced Dee Milliner would remain in his starting role at cornerback.
Not wanting to mess with the rookie's confidence, credit Ryan for being patient at a time when job security isn't at an all-time high. Ryan has probably earned himself some extra time thanks to the team's surprising start but his commitment to player development is still commendable.
For whatever reason, Ryan appears to believe strongly in Milliner and even thinks, by the time the season's over, he'll be the best rookie corner and playing better than any corner from this year's draft. While the intent behind Ryan's comments were meant to do no harm, it's that type of cocksure talk that can raise expectations for a struggling player a bit too highly.
It's an especially bold statement considering Milliner is coming off his worst performance as a pro. Milliner looked terrible in last Sunday's 49-9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He allowed four receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown before getting yanked in the second quarter. Ryan stated Milliner was benched because he physically wasn't getting the job done while his benching earlier in the season was due to mental errors.
Fellow cornerbacks Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson have had their issues as well, which could also explain why Milliner will remain the starter. While Walls and Wilson haven't been great, the argument could be made that they've probably still played better than Milliner.
With the New Orleans Saints up next on the schedule, Ryan better hope Milliner starts proving him right in a hurry. Led by seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints rank third in the league in passing yards and have thrown for the second-most touchdowns. Milliner will probably be tested early and often by Brees and deservedly so. Until Milliner becomes the player his coach thinks he can become, teams are going to continue to throw in his direction.
As long as things don't get too ugly, it might actually makes sense to stick with Milliner against a high-powered offense like the Saints. Any sort of poor performance lends itself to a built-in excuse but if Milliner can somehow rise to the occasion, it would prove to be a huge notch in his belt heading into the bye week.
It's a bit too early to label Milliner a bust. As much as fans want instant gratification, especially from a first round pick, rookie mistakes are going to happen to even the best players. Having already missed time in the preseason and three regular season games due to injury, Milliner hasn't been able to show what he's capable of when fully healthy.
There's a chance that a year or two from now, this is viewed as the turning point in Milliner's career. But regardless of whether Ryan's prediction comes to fruition, taking a stance and sticking up for his players is the reason guys like playing for him so much.
Considering the continued reps and support staff surrounding him, Milliner will at least be given every opportunity to prove himself and, for both players and fans, that's all you can ask for.