INDIANAPOLIS – Dee Milliner was humming along at 9-0 with his Alabama teammates when adversity hit.
Texas A&M visited Tuscaloosa on November 10 and executed a thrilling 29-24 victory over the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
The loss was the only one as Alabama went on to win the national title. Milliner kept forging ahead, too, but he was hurt in the loss to the Aggies.
While diving to make a play on a pass in the game, Milliner, a cornerback many draft observers feel is the top prospect at his position, suffered a torn labrum.
“I was hurting when I was playing, but you’ve got to fight through it and keep playing,” said Milliner. “So, I just continued to go out there and play.”
Milliner by-passed surgery like teammate
Milliner decided to delay surgery until after last month’s combine because he wanted to participate to the degree that he could.
In doing so, his 40-yard dash time of 4.37 ranked second among cornerbacks, and he posted a 36-inch vertical leap.
Milliner underwent surgery without incident on the torn labrum on March 12, and he expects to be completely healed when the team that selects him reports to training camp.
Projected as the top corner among a talented draft class, Milliner feels he has earned the spot.
“Yeah, very much. You've always got to have confidence in the plays that you can make, your ability that you have,” said Milliner. “I feel like I am the best DB in all of this. No offense to all the other DB's, just I believe in what I can do and all the plays that I can make.”
The term “shutdown corner” is thrown around frequently by some who analyze the position. Alabama coach Nick Saban has seen a lot of things in football, but not a player who lives up to that billing.
“Every corner I’ve ever coached, every corner I ever knew always got beat,” said Saban. “They all got beat, every one of them. I’ve had some really good ones. The ones that are really good get beat less.”
Milliner does not buy into the description either, but teammate Robert Lester does, saying, “He’s been excellent. You couldn’t ask for any more. He’s taken away a portion of the field. That’s what you want back there.”
Milliner credits a strong mentality and toughness as attributes that separate him from other corners. In 12 starts prior to the title game, Milliner had 51 tackles, two interceptions, 18 passes defensed, 1.5 sacks and four tackles for losses.
Alabama coaches voted him the defensive player of the week four times, and Saban credits the first-team All-America choice for his complete play.
“Milliner is a very good player, not only a good cover guy with good ball skills, but he’s a good run-support guy,” said Saban. “He’s a good tackler. He’s a really good all-around football player. He’s instinctive.”
In three seasons, Milliner ranked fourth in Alabama history with 34 passes defensed, including a conference-leading 1.67 average per game in 2012.
The finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Jim Thorpe Award thinks he compares well with former Alabama defenders Kareem Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick.
“I think we compare, you could see (we’re) alike in some ways,” said Milliner. “We're alike because we come from the same style under Coach Saban. You have to be (a) hard-nosed, physical player at the line of scrimmage and come up in run support. You've just got to be able to do different things. You've just got to go out there and always just make plays and create an identity for (yourself).”
Alabama has done a solid job in recent seasons of placing ready-made talent in the NFL. Milliner appears to be another case, and he credits the leader at the top of the program.
“The way Coach Saban coaches teaches you different things, not just watching films and different things, he's the one that gets you right for game day,” said Milliner. “He teaches you lessons and values that you need on the field and off the field. (He) justs help you all around as a coach.”
LOOKING AT THE 2013 NFL DRAFT'S CORNERBACKS
THE LAST SIX
The last six cornerbacks drafted by the Colts:
2011: Chris Rucker, sixth round, Michigan State
2010: Ray Fisher, seventh round, Indiana
2010: Kevin Thomas, third round, Southern Cal
2009: Jerraud Powers, third round, Auburn
2007: Michael Coe, fifth round, Alabama State
2007: Dante Hughes, third round, California
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of cornerbacks expected to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft (*-denotes underclassman):
Marc Anthony, California
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Will Davis, Utah State
Dee Milliner, Alabama*
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State*
Darius Slay, Mississippi State
Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Desmond Trufant, Washington
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.