As the ninth overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, cornerback Dee Milliner receives wide latitude in terms of his development and his injury-related problems. But if the second-year player from Alabama doesn't get back on the field soon, he might find himself in a battle for his starting job with veteran corner Darrin Walls.
Milliner (quad), the only Jet who didn't practice Friday, is listed as doubtful and isn't expected to play for the third time in four games when the Jets host Detroit on Sunday.
"I'll be surprised if he plays," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Ryan has been patient with Milliner's development curve, but when asked if Walls could earn the full-time job, the head coach was unequivocal. "Absolutely," Ryan said. "No question about that. He's going to be hard to move out of there."
Evaluating Walls' recent play, Ryan said the unsigned free agent from Notre Dame had one bad play against Green Bay's Jordy Nelson and an unjustified pass interference penalty against Chicago's Alshon Jeffery that was reviewed by the league office.
Walls and fellow cornerback Antonio Allen will be under the gun against Lions wideouts Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Johnson, who is questionable with an ankle injury but returned to practice Friday, said he's looking forward to facing a Jets defense known for its man-to-man coverage.
"I'm not sure how much he'll wind up in single coverage, but our defensive scheme plays a lot of man-to-man," Walls said. "We'll have to see how that really happens. We're excited to go against him, too. It just tests us and shows us where we are compared to the best, and I think he is one of the best."
"Megatron," as Johnson is known, is listed at 6-5 and 236 pounds, which makes him a physical mismatch for most any cornerback. "If you look at his physical nature, he runs past corners," Walls said. "He's the tallest receiver in the game, he has great hands and his vertical is one of the best."
But Walls has been there before as a freshman in college going against Georgia Tech's Johnson. "He had one big catch," Walls said. "Other than that, he didn't do much. We won, 14-10."
If he helps contain Johnson and Tate Sunday, Walls could dig in as the starting corner. "I'm developing and growing every week," Walls said. "If I happen to be the outright starter, that's it. But I'm here to compete every day and get better."
Notes & quotes: Wide receiver Eric Decker (hamstring) was limited and listed as questionable but said, "I'm ready to go Sunday." . . . Offensive guard Willie Colon (calf), offensive lineman Dalton Freeman (knee), running back Chris Johnson (ankle), center Nick Mangold (shoulder), wide receiver David Nelson (illness) and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (knee) all practiced full and are probable . . . Second-year cornerback LeQuan Lewis is a possibility to be activated . . . Lions starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (calf) is doubtful.