The Dolphins’ top two draft picks have left the team both encouraged and intrigued this summer. But Dolphins officials will learn a lot more in the coming days, with the team scheduled to practice in “upper” pads on Saturday and full pads sometime next week.
For first-round defensive end Charles Harris, that means seeing if the nifty pass rush moves that he displayed without pads are quite as effective wearing full uniforms, and whether he holds up capably against the run.
For second-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan, that means determining – over the course of the next six weeks – if he’s ready to become an NFL starter, possibly at middle linebacker.
McMillan received substantial first-team snaps at middle linebacker during the second day of training camp on Friday and said he would welcome that responsibility.
“I'm very comfortable at mike [but] I've been playing all three positions,” he said. “I call the plays, get everything lined up. But from there, everyone makes their own calls too.”
The Dolphins have declined to say which linebacker is likely to play what position. But during first-team drills on Friday, McMillan primarily played middle linebacker, with Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons flanking him. Alonso and Timmons have had considerable experience playing middle linebacker.
“It's a lot of expectations for me,” McMillan said. “Those guys are proven leaders and proven players on the field,” adding he needs to live “up to my own expectations and play to a high standard.”
McMillan is the front-runner to start at the third linebacker position, but the Dolphins are allowing Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull to compete there as well.
Starting is “definitely a goal from my end,” McMillan said. “It's a longterm goal. At Ohio State, I came in and started as a freshman. I kind of built leadership early. Here I don't have to be that leader out there. You have leaders on the team, guys who have been in the league 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years. I don't have to be that vocal leader out there. I just have to do my job.”
Coach Adam Gase said McMillan is “really smart. He’s the least of my worries. Does a good job of being vocal, very clear. He’s going to make mistakes; that’s part of it.”
McMillan, who had 119 and 102 tackles the past two seasons, said Ohio State prepared him for the NFL because it’s the “best program in the nation to me. There is no place a recruit should rather go than Ohio State because you can get mentally prepared for the NFL physically and you will win championships at Ohio State.”
Harris, meanwhile, continues to work with the second team behind Cam Wake and Andre Branch. He loved having the opportunity to spend time recently with Dolphins legend Jason Taylor, who is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 5.
“I couldn’t imagine another Hall of Famer I’d rather learn after,” Harris said. “It’s great. The big thing I took away from working out with him are the things he did post-practice during camp when your body is tired, it’s after practice, you already drained yourself.
“But it’s like working the technique, working the fundamentals. Post-practice is what’s going to really help you in the fourth quarter or late in the game or evenin overtime when an offensive tackle is tired, you might be winded as well but you still got your technique. That’s one thing than can always beat an opponent.”
The Dolphins have no doubt about Harris’ ability to rush the passer; he had seven and nine sacks his final two years at Missouri. They’re optimistic he will be stout against the run, but there are doubters.
“He is a liability I think right now against the run,” ESPN’s Jon Gruden said. “He’s got to recognize draws. He’s got to smell out screens. He’s got to improve at the point of attack.”
Harris said his emphasis so far has been “working against tight ends, playing against the run and stuff like that.”
With both Harris and McMillan, Gase said he wants to “keep seeing what we’ve been seeing so far. You see those guys flash whether it’s the running game or passing game. We’ll keep giving them different looks.”
• Receiver Rashawn Scott, who has been in a walking boot with a foot injury sustained in June, is a “ways off” from being able to practice, Gase said.
• Tight end Anthony Fasano returned after missing the first day with a personal issue.
• Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley left the field because he got a “little overheated,” Gase said, adding that he’s “all right.”
• Laremy Tunsil, pleased to be moving back to left tackle (his natural position), said he has studied tape of Cowboys four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, a player he particularly admires.
• Gase said Jakeem Grant is doing “extremely well” as a receiver and returner. “On offense he’s making a huge jump for us,” Gase said. “It’s fun to watch him play, when he gets the ball in his hands and gets a little bit of space, [defenders] panic and he’s gone. We will see if we can get him going at receiver; it makes him more valuable.”
• Cornerback Xavien Howard made a nice breakup on a pass from Ryan Tannehill to DeVante Parker.
• Alonso picked off Tannehill on a play where Jay Ajayi and Tannehill appeared to not be on the same page. But Tannehill also threw a nice touchdown pass to Kenny Stills in the corner of the end zone.
• Rookie sixth-round defensive tackle Vincent Taylor had a sack on Matt Moore… Jordan Lucas picked off a Moore pass off a deflection… Thomas Duarte made several catches but also dropped one… Rookie seventh-round receiver Isaiah Ford made a nice lunging catch on the sideline.
• Hewitt, Mike Hull and Brandon Watts were the second-team linebackers. After Hewitt pasted Kenyan Drake on one play, Drake got up, pushed Hewitt and threw a ball at him.
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