By Ernie Palladino
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Coaches have days at practice, and then they have DAYS.
Rex Ryan had one of the latter Sunday. The kind that sort of reminded him that perhaps the front office hierarchy did him no favors when they launched Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis in 2013. As the shutdown cornerback went through his work with the New England Patriots, Ryan got to see not one, but two of the cornerbacks he’s relying on to rejuvenate the Jets secondary go down injured.
Dexter McDougle, a third-round rookie who was expected to play in a nickel role behind either Kyle Wilson or Dimitri Patterson, won’t be back. He suffered a torn ACL while taking first-team reps in place of the absent Patterson. His cleat got caught during one-on-one red zone drills, and snap went the tendon.
Dee Milliner, the first-rounder of 2013, who was expected to take over Antonio Cromartie’s old patrol against the top wide receivers, came down awkwardly on his left ankle while trying to break up a deep Geno Smith pass to rookie wideout Quincy Enunwa. His foot rolled under him, and the resulting high ankle sprain will cost him several weeks of practice — read that knowledge and experience.
With Patterson down with a calf sprain, Wilson stands as the only healthy one of Ryan’s top four rated cornerbacks on the roster. Also understand that even when Milliner does get back, he won’t be 100 percent. High ankle sprains are real pains, so expect him to work at a reduced efficiency for most of the season.
It happens this way sometimes. There are days, sometimes weeks, in practice where an entire section of a team disintegrates before a coach’s eyes. The Giants have seen plenty of that the last few years, first with the cornerbacks in 2011, and then in 2012 with the wide receivers.
Some teams survive. After having Prince Amukamara go down with a broken foot in his first training camp practice, hard-hitting Terrell Thomas blow out his ACL in the preseason game against Chicago near the end of August, and good-looking backup Brian Witherspoon see his Giants career go poof with an injury that same game, the Giants recovered to win the Super Bowl.
Then again, some teams don’t survive. The next year, Tom Coughlin saw a bunch of receivers go down, including Hakeem Nicks, and his squad wound up 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
Snake-bitten, they call it, and the Jets cornerback spots have all the earmarks of becoming just that. If the positions of quarterback and cornerback can lose a coach a game — maybe a job, quickest of all — then perhaps Ryan should start worrying right now. There is not a lot of quality left on the open market. And with the healthy depth chart currently reading Wilson, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls, and Ras-I Dowling, one must assume that big-stuff receivers of Weeks 2, 3, and 4 — Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, and Calvin Johnson — are sharpening their cleats as they daydream about setting single-game reception records.
The overall situation isn’t quite that dire if it remains static. Wilson does have some experience back there, and now that first-round backup Calvin Pryor seems to have cleared up from a concussion, Ryan could always go with an aggressive dime alignment. Regardless of that, there’s no doubt the pressure on the front seven to put the quarterback on his rear end will be increased exponentially.
But that all depends on whether a large, invisible snake is wandering the training camp field at Cortland. Ryan can only hope that Sunday’s injuries are the extent of the long-range problems at cornerback. If he finds himself even an unspectacular, though capable veteran to fill McDougle’s spot and Milliner can come back and play decently, the one faulty mechanism in the Jets’ defensive engine will still keep them flying.
Another sprain or pop, though, could turn horribly the fate of the secondary in what long ago became a pass-first league. If that happens, 2014 might turn into a long, long season of big passing plays for the opposition.
It’s hard to win like that.
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