HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Justin Miller was away from the football field long enough.
Practice was already finished Thursday, but the New York Jets' cornerback was still doing drills with a few of the rookie defensive backs.
``I feel good, man,'' Miller said. ``I'm excited to be out here playing with these guys again.''
That's because it was a rough year for Miller, the Jets' 2005 second-round pick who missed a chunk of time in training camp last summer with a hamstring injury and then blew out his right knee in Week 2 at Baltimore.
``I think it's like any job,'' the always playful Miller said. ``When you don't have a story, I guess that's tough, too. I worked hard and I think everybody around me that supported me helped me work hard.''
Miller, now wearing No. 21 in honor of his idol Deion Sanders after beginning his career with No. 22, has practiced with the first-team defense at right cornerback during the last few days of voluntary organized team activities. While coach Eric Mangini said Miller isn't yet 100 percent, he expects him to be by the start of training camp in July.
``If you've been in this game as long as any of us have,'' Miller said, ``you understand it's always good to be out there playing and being with a bunch of guys you love being around.''
After the Jets drafted Darrelle Revis last year, many thought that was a sign that Miller's time with the team was limited. While he has become a Pro Bowl kick returner with his blazing speed, he hasn't been able to lock up a starting job in the secondary. Miller's inconsistent man-to-man coverage skills have been the primary culprit, and he still doesn't have an interception.
``Obviously, Justin is a huge threat on special teams and he's progressed as a defensive back,'' Mangini said. ``I expect that he will keep making progress the way that he is showing.''
Miller injured a hamstring in the team's scrimmage at Fordham University and didn't play in any preseason games while recovering. He made it back in time for the regular-season opener against New England, but didn't make it through the first half the following week at Baltimore.
gament in the knee, ending his season.
Despite being a guy whose livelihood is largely based on his speed - he won the NFL's fastest man competition at the 2007 Pro Bowl - Miller didn't fear for his career.
``Nah, man,'' he said. ``I'm positive about everything. I'm always very optimistic.''
One of his first calls was to his mother, Donna Bowman, who was watching on TV when Miller was injured.
``Justin remained pretty optimistic and was upbeat, surprisingly so,'' said Bowman, a retired Army drill instructor. ``He was real excited about his rehab and when people would ask about how he was doing, I'd tell them he was doing just fine. He really took everything in stride.''
A little homecooking certainly helped. Bowman and Miller's grandmother, Delma Cottoner, would make frequent trips to New York to keep his spirits high by preparing his favorite meals.
``It's funny because I was a little concerned he was going to get a little fat,'' Bowman said with a laugh. ``He likes chitlins, so when I was home in Atlanta, I had to go to the store, put them on ice and send them to New York so my mother could cook for him.''
The free-spirited Miller stayed around the team, and would often zip through the locker room on crutches before practices, razzing his teammates and joking around.
``He was like that when he was growing up, messing with his sister and all,'' Bowman said. ``But that's Justin. He's always the life of the party.''
In Miller's absence, Leon Washington took over as the team's kick returner and had a Pro Bowl-caliber season himself. Instead of worrying about his job security, Miller became Washington's biggest fan.
``I voted for him everyday at home on my computer,'' Miller said. ``I voted for him everyday to go to the Pro Bowl, and I was very excited to see him out there being successful.''
With players such as David Barrett, Hank Poteat and rookie Dwight Lowery in the mix for the starting right cornerback job, it might be easy for fans to overlook Miller after a year away.
``I don't think they forgot, and I don't even think you forgot because you wouldn't have asked me if you did,'' he said, flashing a big smile. ``Nah, at the end of the day, it's a team game and whoever's on the field and whoever's out there playing, we're going to support them.''

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