Mehta: Don’t expect miracles out of healed Jets cornerback Dee Milliner

By on September 11, 2014

Dee Milliner practiced Wednesday without shiny red boots, a bright red cape or the 19th letter of the alphabet emblazoned on his chest. According to eyewitnesses, he didn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound or exhibit feats of superhuman strength, either.

Milliner’s impending return from a month-long hiatus due to a high ankle sprain has turned into the stuff of legend in the run-up to the Jets’ road test against the Packers on Sunday.

Somewhere along the way in the past 30 days, Milliner morphed into Deion Sanders . . . or that other guy (No. 24) with the fictional island (five-time Pro Bowler) who was the engine of Rex Ryan’s defense for years (rhymes with “Leave us”).

Milliner, who did his most extensive football-related work since suffering the injury on Aug. 10, would be a welcomed addition, but he’s far from a secondary savior.

Ryan admitted that he’s “cautionary optimistic,” and Milliner proclaimed he’s “very optimistic” that he’ll be earning his paycheck at Lambeau Field this weekend, but everyone should temper their expectations.

Milliner isn’t a panacea for the Jets’ issues on the back end.

Although defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson believes it’ll be a “major boost” if Milliner plays on Sunday, he has realistic hopes for the second-year cornerback.

“Everybody gets beat, but he covers.” Richardson told the Daily News. “He’s one of the best ones we got. We’ve been waiting on him to get healthy so he can prove that.”

Milliner, the ninth pick of the 2013 draft, provided plenty of agita for Jets fans last season. He missed much of the offseason program recovering from shoulder surgery before an Achilles injury cut short his preseason. He missed three regular-season games due to a hamstring injury. Ryan benched him three times before a solid December that included three interceptions and earned him Defensive Rookie of the Month honors.

Milliner grabbed headlines during training camp by telling The News that he was the best cornerback in the NFL.

“I’m not going to say somebody that plays the same position is better than me,” Milliner said at the time. “Don’t care if they’ve been in the league 10 years and I’ve been here five months. That’s how it’s going to go. I’m the best. I’m not going to say that another man that plays the same position . . . and say he’s better than me? I can’t do that.”

He had an uneven camp, sometimes getting beat by Eric Decker and even Stephen Hill in practice, before hurting himself defending a deep pass to rookie receiver Quincy Enunwa.

The Jets’ dire cornerback situation only magnified Milliner’s importance. Before long, the narrative became bizarre: Somehow, Milliner would be the elixir for the cornerback woes. His flaws receded into the background.

Ryan wasn’t ready to say that Milliner is a shoo-in to face Aaron Rodgers & Co. How his body responds to his first real day of backpedaling, breaking and turning in a month will go a long way toward determining if he’ll play on Sunday.

The Jets wisely have taken a cautious approach in Milliner’s rehab to avoid a potential setback, but Ryan suggested that his second-year corner could be used in a limited fashion against Green Bay.

The Packers’ break-neck tempo that aims for 70+ offensive plays per game makes it highly unlikely that Milliner will be out there for every snap.

“Look around,” Ryan said of his cornerback options. “If he can play in a limited role, let’s play him in a limited role. That’s how I see it.”

Ryan has been told by team trainers that Milliner is “healed,” so it’s simply about “working through some soreness. . . and mental things” at this point.

“You got to be careful,” Milliner said. “Because if you rush it and get back too fast, you could hurt it again or just cause more pain or heartache.”

Ryan’s cornerbacks held up fairly well against Raiders rookie Derek Carr in the Jets’ season-opening win, but Rodgers, surely seething after getting embarrassed by the Seahawks in Week 1, will be exponentially harder to handle.

The Jets held Rodgers to a 44% completion rate in their last meeting four years ago — his lowest since becoming a full-time starter in 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information — but Ryan had Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie at his disposal.

Those guys aren’t walking through the door. Milliner is the best they got now.

“If I’m out there,” Milliner said on his availability this weekend, “expect the most out of me.”

Just don’t expect any miracles.

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