The former Pro Bowl kick returner had been cut by Oakland
earlier this season, and had workouts with Kansas City, Tampa Bay and the New
York Jets. Still, he was unemployed and facing the possibility that his NFL
career could be over at age 25.
“You have your thoughts and your ups and your downs,”
Miller said Thursday. “You think, ‘Wow. Is this really the end? Am I going to
get the chance to go back and really show I can still play and prove that I
belong in this league?'”
He finally got that opportunity and ended up right where
he started. The Jets signed Miller on Tuesday to replace the injured Leon
Washington as the team’s primary kick returner – two years after Washington
“If it was up to me, I’d rather come back under different
circumstances,” said Miller, who has known Washington for several years. “It’s a
part of life and all we can do is keep going and pushing forward.”
With Washington out for the year after breaking his right
leg in New York’s 38-0 win at Oakland on Sunday, it’s Miller’s time again.
“This is my fifth year and realistically, time has been
invested in me before, so this is kind of the second go-around,” Miller said.
“It’s like, ‘Here’s your chance. You’ve got to do it.'”
Coach Rex Ryan said Miller won’t play in the secondary
this week against Miami (2-4) because he still needs to learn the defense.
“It’s probably French class to him right now,” Ryan
But, the Jets know one thing: Miller can return
“I’m very comfortable with having Justin back and we
want to give him a total chance and complete opportunity,” special teams
coordinator Mike Westhoff said. “To do what we’re going to ask him to do and the
roles I’m going to have him in, he’s very well-suited and looks in good shape
On the flight home from Oakland, Westhoff, Ryan and
general manager Mike Tannenbaum considered potential replacements for
Washington. Miller was the first guy Westhoff thought of.
“He’s in the exact right place at the exact right time,”
Westhoff said. “This is certainly worth a chance to try. As I told Justin, we’re
looking to hit a home run.”
It’s been a strange journey back to the Jets (4-3) for
Miller, who was the team’s second-round pick out of Clemson in 2005.
He had his share of struggles playing cornerback, but
his speed made him a weapon on special teams. In his second season, he was
selected for the Pro Bowl after leading the AFC in return average. Miller also
was named the NFL’s Fastest Man after winning the 40-yard dash competition
before the Pro Bowl.
He injured a hamstring the following summer, then tore
the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a return against Baltimore
in Week 2. Washington stepped in and became a Pro Bowl returner himself, making
Miller was claimed by Oakland a day after New York
waived him last November, and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns for the
Raiders. He was released at the end of training camp, re-signed a few weeks
later and cut again after one game.
“That’s Oakland,” said Miller, now wearing No. 32.
“That’s about all I could say. If I got a clue what was going on in Al Davis’
mind, I would tell you. I don’t really know what’s going on in that camp, to be
Frustrated and his career dangling in uncertainty,
Miller flew to New York last weekend with his best friend to get away for a
while. He was checking on his home on Long Island, which he still owns from his
first stint with the Jets, when his mother, Donna Bowman, called him and told
him about Washington’s injury. He then received a call from his agent saying the
Jets were interested in bringing him back.
“Everybody knows what he’s capable of doing,” special
teams ace Wallace Wright said. “Unfortunately, Leon’s out, but now he knows the
scheme and he’s been here. Maybe it’ll have that domino effect: He was here and
was a Pro Bowler, Leon replaced him and was a Pro Bowler and now he’s back.”
Miller was known as a fun-loving, free-spirited guy in
the locker room, but has appeared more low-key in his first few days back in
green and white.
“I think I was forced to grow up earlier than the
average player that comes into the league, and it was a lot for me,” said
Miller, who was 21 as a rookie. “I think through your highs and your lows, you
learn humility and accountability and I think that’s the only thing you can do
is learn from experience.”
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