Dee Milliner’s reclamation campaign off to rough start

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
Read full post on NFL.com

Jacksonville opened the preseason with a quality first step, despite a 17-13 loss to the Jets. The brightest spot of that strong start belonged to wide receiver Allen Robinson.

A glance at the highlights will bring you two sensational grabs made by Robinson, which landed the Jaguars in the red zone, and soon after, the end zone. It’s the way things have largely been going for Jacksonville lately. After the franchise’s most encouraging offseason in recent memory (save for rookie Jalen Ramsey‘s setback), there are plenty of reasons to be excited.

Lost in Robinson’s big-play-packed preseason debut was the corner on the losing end of those one-on-one battles. Particularly who that corner was is important, because it was former first-round pick Dee Milliner.

Milliner has struggled mightily with injuries since being selected ninth overall out of Alabama in 2013 as the perceived successor to Darrelle Revis. He’s played in just 21 of 48 possible games in his professional career. He hasn’t seen the field as a defender in the regular season since 2014. On Thursday, he looked like it.

Entering the game in place of starting corner Buster Skrine, Milliner was almost immediately confronted with a man-to-man matchup against Robinson, who ran a fade toward the sideline on second-and-2 from Jacksonville’s 22. Quarterback Blake Bortles tossed it up for his man, who made a leaping, spinning grab and managed to drag both feet in bounds for a first down. Milliner, focused on staying as deep into Robinson’s chest as possible, didn’t even have time to turn his head around.

The very next play, Bortles went deep, thanks to an offsides penalty on Deon Simon. The flag flew, free play, and Bortles let it fly. Robinson made another spectacular grab, with Milliner, again left in one-on-one, trying to track the ball before leaping and missing. It was more of a fantastic catch than poor coverage. But on back-to-back plays, the losses are magnified.

As head coach Todd Bowles said, they were completions you simply cannot allow.

He gave up an explosive play and missed a tackle that turned into an explosive (play),” Bowles said, via the New York Post. “You can’t have explosion plays. … We’ve got to correct that.”

Milliner later allowed a huge gain by Tony Washington, who ran a slant and, aided by Milliner striking him in the lower back, reversed course before sprinting down the sideline past a flailing Milliner and other Jets defenders to the New York 12.

“I gave up two explosion plays and I can’t let that happen,” Milliner said. “Most definitely I was upset about them because I should have made the plays. I’ve just got to make the plays when it’s my time. On [the 45-yard Robinson catch], I tried to go for the ball and he made a good catch, and then I had the missed tackle [on Washington]. Both of them were critical.”

Now what could be critical is Milliner’s job status with the Jets. His run of bad luck health-wise is well-documented. But after spending parts of three seasons rarely coming close to reaching the expectation set for him in being a top-10 selection, and only playing special teams in 2015, Milliner could meet The Turk before the end of preseason. It certainly isn’t off to a good start.

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