FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Darrelle Revis is a distant memory in the New York Jets’ new-look secondary.
Gone is the man considered by many to be one of the best players in team history, and perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL. But, Rex Ryan believes Antonio Cromartie can handle the load of being the main guy — especially since he did it last season when Revis was hurt.
“We’re very fortunate to have a true No. 1 cornerback,” Ryan said Thursday before the final practice of the team’s three-day minicamp. “We hope to have more than just that, but we’re very fortunate to have Cro because he’ll stand with anyone in the league with his talents.”
Ryan has also been pleased with Kyle Wilson’s progress, and throw in the expectations for Dee Milliner, this year’s No. 1 pick who’s still recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery, and the Jets’ cornerbacks corps is surprisingly promising — even without Revis.
“We’re confident,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a good group from top to bottom. There’s competition and we’re just pushing each other. You can’t have a bad day in that room.”
The team’s mix of cornerbacks includes the touted first-round picks such as Cromartie, Wilson and Milliner and lesser-known players such as Darrin Walls, Aaron Berry, Ellis Lankster, Donnie Fletcher and Isaiah Trufant — far from household names at the moment.
“Yeah, but everybody can play,” Wilson said. “That’s the good thing.”
When Revis — traded to Tampa Bay in April — went down for the year early last season with a knee injury, it was Cromartie who filled in as the shutdown cornerback while taking on opponents’ best wide receivers week after week.
While Cromartie wasn’t exactly Revis — and very few are — he was one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Jets. The 8-year veteran played in every game and tallied 35 tackles and three interceptions last season. He made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2007, his second NFL season with San Diego.
“I’m not sure how many corners actually played better than him last year,” Ryan said. “But I see him taking another step. I don’t think there’s any doubt. I see him taking a step as far as his leadership as well, bringing guys with him.”
Cromartie, who was excused from practice Thursday for personal reasons, is expected to train privately with some of the team’s other defensive backs, including Berry and possibly Wilson, before training camp begins at the end of July.
“There’s been a big difference since Reev got hurt last year, Cro’s been a lot more vocal and really just stepped up to the challenge and trying to motivate us on a daily basis,” Wilson said. “He’s definitely been leading by example.”
Wilson trained with Revis in Arizona the past few summers, learning the intricacies of the position from a guy he considered somewhat of a big brother. This offseason, Ryan has taken time to sit down with Wilson and explain the entire defense to him, piece by piece.
While it’s likely Wilson will give way to Milliner at the No. 2 cornerback spot, he serves in a valuable role as the team’s nickel back as well as moving around within the secondary depending on the coverages called.
“I will say this about Kyle: This is the best camp he’s had, and it’s not close,” Ryan said. “I’ve been proud of the way he’s come into these OTAs and the way he’s competing. The other thing about Kyle is mentally, he’s a sharp guy as well. He can work inside and outside and we’ll play him at both spots.”
Wilson was the Jets’ first-round pick in 2010 out of Boise State, and the team expected big things from him immediately. But he suffered from a lack of confidence in his rookie season after blowing some plays, and struggled to be consistent.
There have been some fans and media who have suggested this could be a make-or-break season for Wilson, especially since New York took Milliner with the No. 9 pick in the draft in April. While Wilson said he has welcomed Milliner aboard, he was asked if the rookie’s presence could serve as motivation for him.
“Yeah, it’s going to do something,” Wilson said with a smile, “but me just staying focused is going to help me out and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”
Wilson has felt more comfortable this offseason, attributing that to knowing “exactly what to look for” on the field.
“I know why we’re calling stuff and scenarios and I try to use that to think like a coach out there, so I’m not having rookie mistakes,” he said. “You can see things and understand why we’re doing it and what we’re trying to do defensively and to put myself in a better position.”
Milliner is the wild-card in the cornerback mix for Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. The former Alabama star hasn’t practiced at all this offseason, but he and the team hope he’ll be ready to go at the start of camp.
And despite his lack of action this spring, Ryan knows exactly what he’s got in Milliner.
“Certainly there is going to be competition for that (outside) spot, but Dee Milliner will have every opportunity to compete for that as well,” Ryan said. “You take a guy with the ninth overall pick, and for good reason. The guy’s a tremendous talent, one of the top corners to come through the draft in a long time.”
NOTES: TE Kellen Winslow Jr. impressed the Jets during his three-day tryout and it appears likely the team will sign him, although he hadn’t been told anything as of Thursday afternoon. “I’ll just go back and wait,” said Winslow, who added, “It’s a great spot.” … GM John Idzik on working with Ryan: “He’s been fantastic. … He’s a joy to work with. As you guys know, he makes it fun. I think he’s been energized.” … RB Mike Goodson was back at practice after missing a day dealing with legal issues. Prosecutors in New Jersey are sending the drug and weapons case against him to a grand jury, and Idzik wouldn’t guarantee Goodson will make the team. “There are no guarantees in life,” he said. “There are certainly no guarantees in the National Football League. But the legal situation, we just let it run its course and we respond accordingly, the same way with the league, the same way with the club. We’ll let things take their course.”
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