Miller lays out RB Ahman Green
Before Saturday's Green & White Practice, the Jets Flight Crew performed a dance number to "Candy Man," and there was Justin Miller, about 15 feet from the group, like a choreographer, step for step and almost in sync with the dancers.
In practice, when the first-team defense takes the field, there Miller is, lining up opposite Darrelle Revis.
The fourth-year cornerback, after missing the final 14 games of last season with a leg injury, is back in the mix — playing right cornerback, returning kicks and yes, cutting a rug.
"I think if you're uptight and stiff all the time you're not going to be able to do the things you're accustomed to doing," Miller said of his jovial demeanor.
It wasn't from a lack of exuberance, but he wasn't able to do the things he was accustomed to last year. He went down on Sept. 16 against the Ravens and had to watch as his team struggled through a 4-12 season.
The injury, which he suffered on a kickoff return, derailed what was expected to be a strong season. Miller, with a 28.3-yard kickoff return average and two touchdowns, had been selected as the AFC's kick returner for the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season. But there he was, unable to run.
"It was definitely tough when you're used to doing something all your life and then you can't do it," he said.
He sat and watched as Revis emerged at cornerback and Leon Washington filled in admirably as a return man — "I approve of everything he did," Miller said — but it wasn't the same.
But he's back now and looks to be in rhythm, as if he hadn't missed a beat (puns very much intended). "I'm just blessed to have this opportunity to still be able to play football," he said.
And play it well.
Miller's speed and lateral movement haven't been fully tested — they won't be until he faces game action — but he has certainly looked fluid and demonstrated good coverage skills, showing no lingering effects of the injury.
"I give a lot of thanks to the staff and these players and everybody that helped me get through it," he said.
Miller, who believes he improved his hand technique and developed a full grasp of the defense during the time off, has drawn compliments from the coach.
"I think Justin, over the last two years, has made tremendous strides," said Eric Mangini, who last week lauded Revis, his other starting cornerback. "He's focusing on a lot of the details of defensive back play, which I think has translated really well into what he has done at practice.
"We'll do the off-man drill and he'll be able to self-correct right after the play. … He's able to give himself instant feedback. It shows me that he understands the technique that we're trying to play and he's working at that technique."
His dance technique, too: "I've never been dancing with him, but I'm sure he can hold his own," the coach said.
This season, Miller said, is full of promise for himself and the back four. In 2007 the Jets' defense ranked ninth in passing yards against and gave up the sixth-fewest passing touchdowns, and he thinks the secondary is jelling now.
"If Darrelle sees something that I don't see or I see something he doesn't see or David [Barrett] sees something I don't see, we all give each other advice," he said. "If we all help each other get better, then eventually we're going to be a good unit."
Mangini also noted Miller's ability to be both focused and "loosey-goosey" on the field. Miller takes his job seriously, but not himself so much.
"At this point, it's not just about the money, it's all about having fun and being able to enjoy this game with the guys you're playing with," Miller said. "As competitive as this game is, it's important to have fun."
He does, and it's evident when he's dancing to the tracks on the Jets' practice playlist — many of which he picked out.
Miller's favorite song is "Put On" by Young Jeezy and Kanye West, which has been in almost constant rotation at practice, so much so that it's become the de facto training camp anthem.
"I love Jeezy. I'm a fanatic," said Miller, a connoisseur of southern hip-hop. "I'm a southern boy. Born in Kentucky, went to school in South Carolina, and I live in Atlanta primarily."
But what about Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" played at the Monday morning practice?
"I had nothing to do with that," he said with a chuckle. "That was more Coach."