A challenge to Julio Jones is just the start for Falcons rookie Jordan Miller

Jordan Miller is a man of confidence, but not one of arrogance.

That mindset can be vital for an NFL rookie, and the Falcons’ cornerback, who was selected in the fifth-round of April’s draft, already appears to be approaching the game the right way.

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“His confidence is through the roof,” Falcons receiver Julio Jones said of Miller. “He’s one of those guys, you want to keep beating him because he’s going to keep coming back. I love his attitude. I love everything about him. The way he approaches the game, everything. It’s rare that you see in a younger guy.

“You know, they try to feel things out. But for him, since day one, he told me, he pulled me to the side one day and he was like, ‘I want to cover you. I want to get better.’ For him to even have that mentality, it’s impressive.”

Jones, a two-time All-Pro and one of the best receivers in the league, has made even the very best cornerbacks in the league look foolish. The thought of covering the NFL’s leading receiver in 2018 one-on-one would be daunting for any defender, let alone a rookie who, at the time he sought out Jones, had yet to play in his first professional game.

But Miller doesn’t worry about being beaten in practice, he’s only worried about getting better. His eagerness to cover Jones is an opportunity to improve, and one Miller believes will help him succeed in the NFL.

“I feel like if you can guard [Jones] you can guard anybody in this league,” Miller said. “He’s such a good player. So, I felt like it was in my best interest to get as many reps as I can against a guy like that.”

Since the start of training camp Jones has been limited in what he does during the team’s practice, so that showdown hasn’t happened just yet. But sooner rather than later Miller will get what he’s asked for and that self confidence will be put to the test.

While covering Jones is on an entirely different level, Miller’s habit of seeking out the best dates back to his college days at the University of Washington, and just like now, he didn’t have to look to far to great receivers to test him. During his time in college, the Huskies had one of college football’s best offenses and two future NFL receivers on the roster – John Ross and Dante Pettis.

In 2016, Miller’s sophomore year, Ross and Pettis combined for 1,972 yards and 32 touchdowns. He had the pleasure of lining up against them every day in practice, and it was a challenge he looked forward to.

Jones, a two-time All-Pro and one of the best receivers in the league, has made even the very best cornerbacks in the league look foolish. The thought of covering the NFL’s leading receiver in 2018 one-on-one would be daunting for any defender, let alone a rookie who, at the time he sought out Jones, had yet to play in his first professional game.

But Miller doesn’t worry about being beaten in practice, he’s only worried about getting better. His eagerness to cover Jones is an opportunity to improve, and one Miller believes will help him succeed in the NFL.

“I feel like if you can guard [Jones] you can guard anybody in this league,” Miller said. “He’s such a good player. So, I felt like it was in my best interest to get as many reps as I can against a guy like that.”

Since the start of training camp Jones has been limited in what he does during the team’s practice, so that showdown hasn’t happened just yet. But sooner rather than later Miller will get what he’s asked for and that self confidence will be put to the test.

While covering Jones is on an entirely different level, Miller’s habit of seeking out the best dates back to his college days at the University of Washington, and just like now, he didn’t have to look to far to great receivers to test him. During his time in college, the Huskies had one of college football’s best offenses and two future NFL receivers on the roster – John Ross and Dante Pettis.

In 2016, Miller’s sophomore year, Ross and Pettis combined for 1,972 yards and 32 touchdowns. He had the pleasure of lining up against them every day in practice, and it was a challenge he looked forward to.

“The hardest people I went against in college were all on my team,” Miller said. “People ask me about the best receivers I went against and I always say Dante Pettis and John Ross. We’d go at it in practice every day in one-on-ones, team, and I felt like it really helped prepare me for games.”

Miller is carrying that same approach with the Falcons, who have arguably the deepest and most talented group of pass-catchers in the league. Although Jones has been limited, Miller has been tested frequently by the likes of Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy and many others.

Miller explained that in college he put his antenna up when facing Ross or Pettis, really focusing in a way he might not against some of the other players on his team. Now, he doesn’t have that luxury. He’s learning that every receiver in the NFL is in the league for a reason and has more than a few tricks up his sleeve that can leave a defensive back grasping at air.

The depth and caliber of receiver in the NFL is something Miller is getting used to, but from a technique and scheme standpoint it’s clear why the Falcons targeted the former Husky.

Washington’s defensive coordinator and defensive back coach is Jimmy Lake, who spent five seasons as an NFL coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. That NFL-style approach is something Lake carried with him to the college ranks, and it has given Miller a head start in practicing what the pros preach.

“It was a point of emphasis for him; he was training us for the NFL,” Miller said. “We played an NFL-type defense, we played single-high [safety] and a lot of Cover 3. In the NFL they look for press corners and guys that can go up and bump, and that’s all we did at [Washington] so that helped a lot for me to get used to being down and pressed on guys.”

The Falcons utilize that same Cover 1/Cover 3 look that Miller played in Washington, so the learning curve might not be as steep in that aspect of the game. Perhaps that’s why Miller is focused on lining up against the best and truly putting his technique to the test.

He got a small taste of what that could look like during Atlanta’s second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. Late in the second quarter, Miller lined up on the right side of the defense across from receiver Preston Williams. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Williams is at least comparable in size to Jones, and for at least one play, created magic in the same way No. 11 often does for the Falcons.

There’s not much Miller does wrong on the play against Williams, yet the Dolphins receiver still ends up making the catch. It’s a “welcome to the NFL” moment for the rookie, showing that even on a play when he does everything mostly right, he can get beaten.

This is where the self-confidence Miller possesses is such an asset. He doesn’t dwell on the losses, he views them as an opportunity for improvement.

“I’ve got to realize that stuff like that is going to happen,” Miller said. “That’s just going to push me to be better and be in better position so I can make that play.”

Stuff like that is going to happen. The receivers in the NFL are just too good, sometimes. But very few in the history of the game are as good as Jones, and Miller is anxious to get his shot against one of the best.

For a rookie cornerback in the NFL, what better way to start?

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