CORTLAND, N.Y. - Dexter McDougle had tears in his eyes just before he was set to play in his first NFL preseason game. But on Sunday, the Jets’ third-rounder was emotional for a much different reason.
A day after he spoke to reporters about his long road to recovery following a season-ending shoulder injury in college, McDougle's rookie year came to an abrupt end after he tore his left ACL in practice.
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The team made the announcement Sunday afternoon, just hours after he and fellow cornerback Dee Milliner had to be carted to the locker room due to injury. And now, Rex Ryan’s questionable secondary looks even weaker just six days removed from their second preseason game against Cincinnati.
“You’re concerned with everybody’s injury, but that’s part of the business,” the Jets coach said, prior to the McDougle announcement. “The next man has to step up. We’ll see. But you’re always concerned with guys’ injuries.”
The Jets were already short two cornerbacks when the day began – Dimitri Patterson (quad, ankle) and Jeremy Reeves (knee) both sat out practice. And within a half hour, the team was down two more defensive backs.
McDougle went down after going up for a jump ball against 6-5 receiver Stephen Hill during red-zone 1-on-1 drills. After getting his left knee checked out on the sideline, the cornerback gingerly walked off the field and was later carted to the locker room.
Ryan refused to speculate on the injury and its severity, but his words – and tone – were telling.
“He came down and a cleat got caught,” the coach said. “He felt a sharp pain and that was it. “
Ryan said he initially was encouraged seeing McDougle walk off under his own power, “but then you realize when a guy does walk off, that’s not necessarily a true indicator.”
Meanwhile, it’s believed Milliner suffered a high sprain in his left ankle and could miss several weeks – a seemingly better diagnosis than a complete break.
The injury after receiver Quincy Enunwa caught a sideline pass on Milliner. Enunwa said he couldn’t remember colliding with Milliner because “as a receiver, you try not to pay attention to the DB. Obviously, he is my teammates and I don’t know if he came out badly injured or anything. I was focusing on the ball, made the play and got up and I saw that he was down.”
Milliner -- who lay writhing in pain for several minutes -- couldn't put any weight on his injured foot and had to be helped off by two trainers. He then was carted to the injury tent, where his left foot was placed in an ice tub, and then carted to the locker room.
Ryan wouldn’t say whose injury was worse at the time, but deep down he knew McDougle's was bad.
“He was like, ‘Ugh, you’ve got to be kidding.’ All that type of stuff,” Ryan said, relaying the rookie's on-field reaction to the injury.
A short time later, McDougle tweeted the following message to his fans: “Thank you everyone who has sent me your support and prayers. This is a tough blow but I promise, I will be back better than ever #GodSpeed.”
Thank you everyone who has sent me your support and prayers. This is a tough blow but I promise, I will be back better than ever. #GodSpeed— Dexter McDougle (@Blasian_Kiddd) August 10, 2014
McDougle was beaming on Saturday as he spoke of his return to football after missing most of his senior season at Maryland due to a shoulder injury. “It felt amazing to finally get back out there,” he said of playing in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Colts. “I was getting real emotional, just taking it all in. I’m living my dream.
“A lot of people didn’t think I’d be in this position almost a year ago when I got my injury. It’s just a testament to my hard work and dedication.”
On that same day, Ryan had complimented McDougle's play. But he also pointed out that the cornerback was a little overweight and not in “NFL shape.”
Asked if Milliner suffered a break or a high ankle sprain, Ryan said “I couldn’t answer that.” But it was clear he knew more than he was letting on. “It sounded like he rolled it, which would lead you to believe that it would be more of an ankle sprain than it would be a fracture.
“I said I wasn’t going to speculate, but I guess I just did.”
As for which cornerbacks will suit up in this weekend in Cincinnati – it’s anyone’s guess, said Ryan. With Patterson, Reeves and Johnny Patrick still nursing injuries, Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster, Brandon Dixon and Ras-I Dowling remain the only healthy cornerbacks on the roster.
“I’ve got to find out who’s still out there,” the coach said.
But Ryan seemed fairly optimistic about the status of his secondary – at least he was before the McDougle news was made official.
“I’m not a new coach,” Ryan said. “Those kind of situations I’ve had to deal with them in the past. And adversity to some becomes opportunity for others. And we’ll put the best 11 out there. And we’ll be able to play defense. We’ve got a lot of good football players, and we’ll be fine.”