FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New York Jets’ secondary is depleted, beleaguered and, most of all, motivated.
Sure, the Jets’ top two cornerbacks — Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson — have been banged up for most of training camp.
And, yes, one of their potential key backups — Dexter McDougle — is out for the season. Oh, and there’s also that eyebrow-raising experiment with safety Antonio Allen moving to cornerback for the first time in his professional life.
Want to call the secondary is a sore spot on this team? Go ahead. The defensive backs beg to differ.
“It’s OK,” Patterson said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, and it’s the good thing about professional sports, you’ve got the opportunity to go out and shut people up.”
But, the question remains: can they?
Well, first Milliner and Patterson need to get back on the field together. Milliner, entering his second year and considered the Jets’ top cornerback, is sidelined indefinitely with a high ankle sprain.
Coach Rex Ryan said the injury is “healing nicely,” but there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to play in the season opener.
Meanwhile, Patterson had been sidelined with calf, ankle and quadriceps ailments since he pushed through them and played — and struggled — in the Jets’ preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. He returned to practice on a limited basis Monday and has been encouraged by his progress.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating because you want to be out there and you want to play,” he said. “You want to be out there getting into a rhythm, but it’s a long season and you want to make sure that when live bullets start flying and the regular season comes, you’re at full strength.”
Patterson called his injuries “minor,” but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play in the team’s next preseason game on Friday night against the Giants. He is, however, optimistic about being ready for Oakland in Week 1.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “No doubt.”
McDougle, a promising rookie, was lost for the season on Aug. 10 — the same day Milliner was injured — after tearing a ligament in his left knee. The third-round draft pick wrote on Twitter that he was having surgery on Wednesday.
Fellow cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling (groin), Jeremy Reeves (hamstring) and Johnny Patrick (hamstring) have also missed time during camp with injuries. That has put Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman in a bit of predicament, with the two turning to Allen and Ellis Lankster, normally a special teams standout, as starters.
Allen struggled against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, who had three catches for 69 yards last Saturday night.
“I’d love to say we can’t worry about who’s not here,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “We’re worried about them because we care about them, and they’ll be fine. With that being said, the guys who are here, we see them in practice, and they play here for a reason. The thing about them is they just need to get a little confidence.”
Pace said the preseason is the time for players to gain experience and earn the trust of their teammates. He also acknowledged that the Jets’ front seven needs to take some of the pressure off the secondary by getting to the quarterback.
“Let the chips fall where they may,” Pace said. “They’re good players. They’ve just got to get seasoned a little bit.”
General manager John Idzik has been criticized by some fans and media for not signing a big-name cornerback in free agency such as Darrelle Revis, Vontae Davis or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Jets also cut Antonio Cromartie, allowing him to become a free agent.
So, with each injury and blown coverage, the secondary becomes an even greater concern.
“People are going to say whatever they want to say outside the locker room,” Patterson said. “Whatever their opinion is, they have the right to exercise their First Amendment (rights). That’s fine. Opinions are part of professional sports. Football is a sport where you go out there and prove it.”
Patterson also believes the criticisms of his teammates at this point in the preseason might be a bit premature and overblown.
“When the regular season comes, you know, seven, eight or nine weeks in, then you have a pretty good idea of what we are as a secondary,” Patterson said. “I think it’s unrealistic and unfair to give opinions at this point, this early. It’s football.
“At the end of the day, guys have to come in and come through the season and show what they can do. That’s what the season’s for. Let the season take its course.”
NOTES: Ryan said the starters will likely play one series into the second half against the Giants. He was uncertain when Michael Vick would enter the game. … Ryan wouldn’t disclose details, but acknowledged that the “medical event” that caused rookie WR Jalen Saunders to get into a car accident last Friday was not a preexisting condition that the team knew about. Saunders, back with the team but not practicing, is expected to address the media Wednesday.
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