Miller has been a key factor in the Jets' first half success
It is the midway point of the 44th season of New York Jets football and the Green and White have balanced out to a 4-4 record. First-year head coach Eric Mangini dished out some recognition Tuesday to two players who have made quite an impact this season including just this past weekend.
One of those players, tight end Chris Baker, has been the focal point of NFL officials' most criticized call of the season. Baker's outstanding one-handed fourth quarter catch in the end zone was ruled incomplete as the sidejudge considered Baker's chances of landing in-bounds impossible after he was pushed out in mid-air by Browns defensive back Brodney Pool.
That play, however, wasn't the reason Mangini brought up his fifth-year tight end. It is Baker's overall production and consistent effort that have impressed the coaching staff.
"One guy that I have been happy with through the first eight games, and I have mentioned him before, is Chris Baker," Mangini said on Tuesday. "He has had a real commitment to improving, not just physically, but in terms of being a pro and a complete football player. I have seen that development as the season goes on."
Baker's play this season appears to have been somewhat limited on the stat sheet, as he has hauled in just 14 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. However, when analyzing Baker's production, one should not limit their opinion based on his stats, as much of his work has gone unnoticed in blocking for the running game.
"He has done a great job in terms of the protections," said Mangini of Baker. "Last week he did a nice job with the tough pass rush of Willie McGinest. There were several different times when he was isolated on him."
In addition to his well-rounded physical contributions, Baker is an intelligent player.
"He has also made good situational aware plays when he has had the opportunity," Mangini praised. "He caught a ball against Detroit, and he couldn't get the first down, but he stayed in bounds and that shows the awareness of not just where the sticks are, but also how important the time was at the point."
"He has made really good choices," added Mangini of Baker. "He is committed to his craft. His position is not always the 80-yard completions or the flashy plays, but it is such an important job and a big part of the offense."
Another gear in the Jets point producing machine comes from Justin Miller, who doesn't even play offense. Miller has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, one for a club record 103 yards against the Colts. The second-year cornerback leads the NFL with a 29.7-yard kickoff return average.
"What I love about Justin is when he has the ball in his hands, he's fearless and he's aggressive and he takes the fight to the kickoff team," Mangini said. "The ways that he hits those seams with such speed, such aggressiveness, such a level of intensity; those guys have to make a decision whether or not they want to - especially those kickers - tackle him. He is powerful for his size."
Miller's size may be one reason for his success in the return game. At 5'10" Miller isn't considered to be a short, shifty runner, but more of a north, south runner. Miller, a solid 196 pounds, seems to shed tackles during every return and with his ability to turn on the after-burners, it's no surprise that this talented Clemson product has three touchdown returns in his last nine games.
Mentality is another reason for Miller's success. As most defensive backs tend to be, Miller has a colorful swagger. His attitude represents that of a typical cornerback, and Mangini, who coached defensive backs for six seasons in New England, knows just how to exploit him.
"There have been a lot of guys that I have worked with that have those colorful personalities," Mangini said. "Justin has been great. He has done everything that I've asked him to do. He has come to see me at different times to talk not just about our scheme but talk about how other corners I've coached have played things, whether it be Ty Law, Otis Smith, Terrell Buckley."
One common thread among those veteran defensive backs was their confidence factor. Miller, though just 22 years old, has the poise to become a success in this league, especially on special teams, where he has already proven himself lethal.
"I feel like every time I touch the ball," Miller said. "I can break one."
With his buoyancy and talent paired up with a perfectionist of a coach in Mangini, Miller will undoubtedly improve as the years roll on. Actually, it is literally time that has been Miller's only obstruction, as he opted to leave Clemson after three years of college ball.
"The younger you are, the less experience you have in the college game. You have to get that year back," Mangini said. "The more experience, the better off you are. The more things you've seen, the easier it is to adjust to things because you can draw on playing that type of receiver.
"He's working at it," he added of Miller. "That's what all these guys are doing; we're all collectively working at the different things we have to get better at. You can't coach natural ability. With coaching, that can improve. The more talented you are the more that improvement can be."