FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Jets have no choice but to try to win with rookie quarterback Geno Smith because they lack experience at the position without injured Mark Sanchez. But they don't have to throw first-round rookie cornerback Dee Milliner to the wolves before he's ready.
Coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman made that clear when they benched Milliner in the second half at New England in a Week 2 loss. As Thurman said, it was obvious that the Patriots were targeting Milliner.
"Rather than have him in a situation where he could get deflated, we decided to get a more experienced guy in there," Thurman said of the move to backup Darrin Walls. "We're not down on him at all. You don't want a rookie to get shell-shocked and not be able to come back from it."
The question now is whether the Jets are prepared to throw Milliner back into the fire against Buffalo rookie quarterback EJ Manuel Sunday. Ryan was noncommittal when asked Friday if he plans to start Milliner or go with more experience.
"I'd rather Dee have more experience five years from now," Ryan joked. "There's no question he'll be ready to play, and he'll be part of the rotation."
Milliner was uncertain when asked if he is starting. "I don't know," the ninth overall pick said, "but I know I'll be out there on the field somewhere playing."
The former Alabama star acknowledged that the benching stung and said he was the victim of his own mental errors. "It was just with checks, being more alert when I'm out there," Milliner said. "It's just the mental part, knowing the situation and being where I'm supposed to be."
As the Jets already had Kyle Wilson in the Patriots game as a nickel defensive back, they replaced Milliner at cornerback with Walls, an undrafted free agent who played six games with the Jets last season after a practice squad promotion.
"Being in the system for a little over a year now, I'm able to recognize what a lot of other players on the defense are doing, not just my job, but their job, so I know where my help is or that I don't have help," Walls said. "I told Dee to keep playing and practicing hard; 'It'll come to you.' He's going to be a great player."
Based on 15 starts last season as a replacement for injured Darrelle Revis, Wilson is the logical candidate for the job now. Describing his rookie baptism, Wilson said, "You've just got to learn how to see the same thing and make sure everybody is in the right position. It comes with time. Dee will be fine. He's a strong guy."
Notes & quotes: Offensive lineman Oday Aboushi (dislocated knee) is out. All other injured Jets are probable, including pass rusher Quinton Coples, who is coming off ankle surgery.