CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Insisting the sudden rash of injuries at cornerback is "not a panic situation," New York Jets coach Rex Ryan refused Monday to accept the dire forecasts for his defense.
It was vintage Ryan, predicting big things, even referencing the 1985 Chicago Bears in a moment of hyperbole.
"This is going to work, we just don't necessarily know how yet," Ryan said. "One thing we know for a fact: This defense will be an outstanding defense."
In a desperation move, the Jets moved safety Antonio Allen to cornerback to help fill the void created by the injuries to starter Dee Milliner (sprained ankle) and rookie Dexter McDougle (torn ACL), both of whom were hurt in Sunday's practice.
The Jets aren't sure if Milliner will be back for the season opener. His ankle is so swollen that he hasn't been able to take an MRI exam, so they claim they don't know whether it's a high- or low-ankle sprain. Either way, it's severe. Milliner, in a walking boot, said he was "in a lot of pain" at the time of the injury.
On Monday, Allen worked with the starting unit, making two interceptions in practice, but he's never played cornerback before. The Jets will audition free agents, but they're inclined to stay with the current personnel, according to general manager John Idzik.
Cornerback was a suspect position at the start of camp, and now four of the 10 corners are battling injuries. The other key injured player is Dimitri Patterson, a projected starter who isn't practicing due to a variety of minor ailments.
"I never said I had to have the top corner in football," said Ryan, who actually had that player from 2009 to 2012 in Darrelle Revis. "My defenses work, period. I don't care what anybody thinks. We take what we have and we work around it."
Ryan is known as a defensive mastermind, but cornerback play is vital in his man-to-man scheme. After cutting longtime starter Antonio Cromartie, the Jets didn't sign any of the big-name free agents, opting for the injury-plagued Patterson, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract. Idzik has come under fire for not restocking at corner.
"We have no regrets whatsoever," he said.
Without Milliner, the Jets' starters Monday were Allen and career backup Ellis Lankster, with Kyle Wilson in the slot. Instead of rushing to sign a veteran, they want to utilize the unusually long week of practice -- nine days between games -- to hold auditions, so to speak.
Allen, a seventh-round pick in 2012, was the first man up. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he fits the mold of the new-age corner, but he's greener than the inside of owner Woody Johnson's wallet. Allen was used at times last season in the nickel, but he was dropped as soon as they signed future Hall of Famer Ed Reed at midseason.
"He's been in our back pocket," Ryan said of Allen. "We talk about his Pro Bowl ability as a safety, but he can also play corner."
Ryan mentioned the celebrated '85 Bears, noting how they used cornerbacks that played safety in college. That defense was coached by Ryan's father, Buddy. The Bears relied on a magnificent front seven. The Jets, too, are strong up front, but the game has evolved into spread passing attacks, minimizing play in the trenches.
The ever-optimistic Ryan tried to put a positive spin on the situation.
"I don't think it's dire straits," he said.