Former free safety of the New York Jets Erik McMillan sits with The Jet Press to recall his early memories with the franchise and give his take on the current state of the team.
McMillan will always be remembered for his tenure with the Jets as one of the best defenders in franchise history. He enjoyed running back interceptions for touchdowns and making his impression known against his opponents.
Here’s an exclusive interview with McMillan just moments after he returned from his family vacation:
HG: First I want to thank you for letting me interview you, Erik. It means a lot to me, for so many reasons.
EM: Hillary, my apologies for taking so long to respond. The family and I went on a seven day cruise and just got back home on Sunday night! I feel sooooo much better now! ?
HG: Very happy to hear! Here’s my first question to start things off with. You had a very exciting start to your career, winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and making the Pro Bowl in your first two seasons, the first Jet to ever do that. Which of the young Jets do you think are making a strong impact on the team?
EM: #41 (Skrine) appeared to me to be really active at coming up with some big plays for the Jets last season. Sheldon Richardson really played hard for his teammates his first few years in the league and was noted also as NFL Rookie of the Year as a Jet. I was the first in Jet history and Sheldon is the second. Not bad for two “Mizzou” boys from St. Louis, Mo.!!!
HG: You played both cornerback and safety. How were your roles different in each position?
EM: Well, when I played in the 4-3 defense for Bud Carson and Pete Carroll. We played a lot of man-to-man coverage with a free safety in the middle of the field. As the free safety, I was free to roam in the deep middle because we had great corners in James Hasty, Bobby Humphrey and Tony Stargell that were “shut down” players before the media were even talking about “shut down” corners. It enabled me to zero in on favorite wide receivers, pass routes and quarterback tendencies. This is how I was able to make so many plays over the top of “covered” wide receivers. I had speed, quickness and an athletic ability never seen before at free safety in the AFC East.
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Playing cornerback was quite the challenge because I never realized how much running a man-to-man corner has to do to cover guys down snap after snap.
When I lined up at cornerback, I found myself covering guys with my back to the football most of time.
The vision that I once had at free safety (seeing the whole field, keeping everyone in front of me) has now been whittled down to seeing the field at an angle (from the sideline), chasing wide receivers all over the field and learning to make plays on the ball with my back turned.
95% of the time I never knew when the ball was coming my way until the wide receiver gave me clues that it was coming and I had a split second to adjust myself, put myself in position to deny the wide receiver the catch. Playing cornerback involves high I.Q., athletic ability, stamina and high stakes pressure. One mistake can equal 6 points for the other team. Your job is on the line every single snap. Kudos to all the cornerbacks in the NFL. However, Hasty, #40, my right corner had the position mastered. I discovered a brand new respect for the occupation of cornerback after I was forced to play it at a high level.
HG: With that in mind, give us your take on the current defensive backfield of the Jets.
EM: The anchor of the secondary is Darrelle Revis with 10 years experience, two six-year experienced guys the rest of the defensive secondary are three years or less experienced. The defensive secondary as a whole contributed to 30 takeaways on the season which was 3rd in the NFL and has to be commended. I’m proud of those guys efforts and accomplishments.
HG: You have been around the game for a while, first seeing it when your dad played through your career to now. Do you like the way the game is headed?
EM: In my opinion, pro football is geared to promote scoring and serve the fans a lot of passing action type of plays. I’m old school, “smash mouth” running game, big hits on wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs. I see too many missed tackles at the professional level because defensive players want to hit guys with their shoulder. Shoulder hits in my day were far and few between.
We wrapped up people with both arms. However, I like the fact that some cautions have been made for the safety of the players as it relates to concussions. I never want to see a former player suffering from injuries sustained from playing football. Every man out there has his whole life ahead of him and his family to enjoy after its all said and done. So I applaud the league for changing some of the rules of engagement for these bigger, faster and stronger athletes.
HG: Favorite memory during your Jets career?
EM: My favorite moment was……….yes against Dan Marino, but it didn’t occur until 1992. I was playing a backup role to the starter at free safety, Lonnie Young. Unfortunately, Lonnie got hurt and had to leave the game, Pete Carroll put me in for Lonnie. Now if Lonnie didn’t come out of the game I wasn’t going to get in at all against the Dolphins as a safety that year. I played corner.
So I’m at safety, Marino tries to “thread the needle” in between Hasty and I. I came out of the middle field and drove downhill on the crossing route, picked off the pass and took it back 83 yards for the score! Every one of my teammates ran down to the end zone jumping on me in celebration including the ball boys (Hampton’s) because my teammates were so happy that I got a chance to show the world that our head coach made a big mistake by not playing me more during the season.
The interception and team celebration meant more to me than anything else that I have ever done as a Jet because I really felt 100% supported by my teammates every step of the way of those 83 yards and 17 weeks of the season!
HG: Last year the Jets invited you back to be an Honorary Pilot for the coin toss. How was that?
EM: WOW!!! When I walked out there on the field at MetLife Stadium for the coin toss, I had my game face on and I actually had flashbacks that I was getting ready to play! I had to snap out of it as I began that long walk off the field. What a great stadium to play in with all those loyal fans! Unbelievable!!!!
HG: Biggest Jets need in the 2016 NFL Draft?
I’d like to thank McMillan for giving me the opportunity to interview him, please follow him on Twitter as he loves connecting with fans of the Jets!