FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New York Jets' issues at cornerback this season could be summed up with one look at the guys who finished the game last Sunday.
Marcus Williams and Josh Thomas.
Wait, who? Well, exactly.
One — Williams — was signed off the practice squad five days before the Jets played at Kansas City. The other — Thomas — was signed a month ago as a free agent and made his Jets debut against the Chiefs. It's not exactly Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie patrolling the secondary, as coach Rex Ryan had back there for a few years.
It's also one of the biggest criticisms of general manager John Idzik, that he didn't sufficiently bolster the cornerback spot through free agency and the draft.
Last week, defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman half-jokingly — maybe — said: "I know a couple of their numbers."
And, just when the Jets didn't think things could get worse, Ben Roethlisberger, coming off two straight games with six touchdown passes, is coming to town with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Scary doesn't come to mind," Ryan said Thursday when asked of the task his secondary is facing. "Yeah, you're concerned, but it's more about what you're facing. The guys we have in the building, there's some good players over there that we have and it's the collective effort of all 11. It doesn't just fall on who's playing right corner or left corner.
"We have some guys that can play. They all can play."
And, they all have. Ryan and Thurman have used several combinations at cornerback throughout the season because of injuries, inconsistency or ineffectiveness. Ryan also acknowledged that he has played "much more" zone coverage than man-to-man, which is usually a constant with his defenses.
When Dee Milliner went down with a high ankle sprain during training camp and third-round draft pick Dexter McDougle was lost for the season with a knee injury, safety Antonio Allen was switched to cornerback in what was called "an experiment" by Thurman.
It lasted more than halfway through the season.
Milliner was lost for the year with a torn right Achilles tendon and free-agent addition Dimitri Patterson was cut after he was first suspended for an unexcused absence before a preseason game. So, Allen ended up starting opposite Darrin Walls on opening day. After weeks of struggles, though, Ryan hinted that Allen might be moving back to safety for the rest of the season.
"You can complain about it or you could just be quiet and go to work as usual," Allen said. "That's what I came and did. I did my best. I probably gave up a touchdown every game but, hey, that was the sacrifice that I was willing to give up."
It's difficult to blame Allen, who showed promise last season at safety before being forced into the position switch.
"He has tried to do everything that we have asked him to do," Thurman said.
Even with New York's issues, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said the Jets "can't be taken lightly."
"Those guys get after the passer," Brown told WFAN's Mike Francesa on Thursday. "Obviously there's Percy Harvin, a great player. They've definitely got some weapons on offense. We're in for a great battle and we can't overlook these guys."
Ryan acknowledged that the Jets held an in-season competition at cornerback last week, with the reward being playing time. Williams, despite being a newcomer, outperformed everyone and earned the start. The undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State spent the first month of the season on Houston's practice squad, was released at the end of September — and is now looking at potentially making his second straight start for the Jets.
"He has picked up the defense fairly well," Thurman said. "He has had a couple of breakdowns, but for the most part he went out and competed and I thought he fared pretty well for his first start. We'll give him more playing time."
But it remains to be seen who might be on the opposite side of Williams. It appears Walls, dealing with a calf issue, won't play for the second consecutive game.
So, it could be Philip Adams, who has started one other game at cornerback and has the Jets' only interception this season. Or, Kyle Wilson, a first-round pick in 2010 who has been plugged in as the regular nickel back. Or, perhaps Thomas, who had two tackles and a pass defensed against the Chiefs.
"At times, Phillip has done a good job," Ryan said. "You had last week with Josh Thomas and Williams. They haven't been with us the whole time, but they've been with us long enough. They know what we do. ... We're confident in our guys."
NOTES: WR Jeremy Kerley missed practice because of an unspecified personal reason, and Ryan said Kerley also will likely miss Friday's session but is expected to play Sunday. ... DLs Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and RT Breno Giacomini all returned to practice after missing Wednesday with illnesses. ... The embattled Ryan on the Jets being scheduled to play the Miami Dolphins in London next season: "I'll say the obvious: As long as I'm on that plane, it'll be a great trip. I'm looking forward to it."
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