ATLANTA – Adam Gase found out pretty quickly that Rontez Miles is more than arguably the Jets' best special-teams player.
Miles has been the first-team free safety for most of training camp while Marcus Maye rehabbed from a nerve issue following shoulder surgery. Maye was activated from the PUP list on Sunday and is expected to start if healthy, but Miles, a seventh-year veteran, has made the coaches take notice.
“I’ve been very impressed,” Gase said. “Coming in here, I knew he was one of the best special-teams, if not that the best special-teams player we have. There wasn’t a lot of chatter about him on defense and seeing him go out there, execute our defense, do a really good job in practice, be a reliable guy in the game, I think he has been a surprise for us as far as him being able to be in that role right now.
“He’s starting. We feel good about it. We’ve created some depth there. I don’t think that’s something we planned on.”
Miles, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013, said his health is a reason for his improved play.
Last year, Miles missed the first eight games while recovering from a torn meniscus. Miles, 30, said this is the best he’s felt “by far” in years, and he was out to prove himself to his new coaches.
“I was playing a lot before I got hurt, two years back-to-back,” Miles said. “It makes you hungry. You’re going older. You got to still prove you can play. Even once you make it, you still got to prove that you can still play. You got new coaches, you got everybody coming in new. It’s another reason to prove who you are again.”
Maye just started participating in contact parts of practice Tuesday. He wore a red jersey, which means he couldn’t be hit, but he is trending toward being ready for the opener. Miles said he’ll be ready to do whatever is asked of him.
“My expectation is to make sure I do anything and whatever I can to make sure this team is better than we were last year and the previous years,” Miles said. “If it’s long snapping, backup punter, kicker, safety, whatever I can do, anything I can do. That’s my expectation: to make sure that no matter when they put me out there, they’re going to get my best effort.”
Third-round pick Jachai Polite is getting reps with both the second- and third-team defense, and Jets coaches said they’re seeing some gradual improvements from the former edge rusher from Florida.
“There’s more attention to detail,” said Joe Vitt, the Jets' senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach. “There’s a better intent when he goes on the practice field. He does a better job of getting lined up and finishing plays.”
Vitt said they’re trying not to throw too much at Polite. They’re learning what “he can retain” and accentuating his strengths.
“He’s pushing himself hard,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “He’s in a lot of different positions. He’s taking the next step. It’s been a shock for him to see how everybody at this level can play.”