As the Dolphins’ defense limped to the finish line last year, the fight really wasn’t fair.
Miami in truth had just one linebacker — Kiko Alonso — who should have been on the field. And he was playing with one hand. Everyone else was a special-teamer forced to play from scrimmage, and the best teams exploited it.
Depth shouldn’t be a concern in 2017, however.
Not with Lawrence Timmons and now Raekwon McMillan in the fold.
The Dolphins addressed their defense’s biggest liability early in the draft, taking McMillan, a thumper from Ohio State, with their second-round pick.
His No. 1 job: help shore up a run defense that ranked 30th in 2016, surrendering a ghastly 140.4 yards per game.
McMillan, a two-time captain at Ohio State, can play both inside and out.
“They said I can play any linebacker position,” McMillan said. “Wherever they need me to play, I can play it.”
Added Dolphins general manager Chris Grier: “I think everybody in the [draft] room wanted him. This is a guy we were all very high on.”
McMillan was the best available player at any position on Miami’s board, Grier insisted.
They obviously liked him over Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham, who was still on the board when went on the clock at 54. (Cunningham went three picks later to the Texans.)
McMillan joins Alonso, Timmons — signed away from Pittsburgh in the offseason — and Koa Misi as the Dolphins’ top four linebackers. Of course, there are only three available starting jobs.
So how will they be used?
New coordinator Matt Burke is still sorting that out, but the best guess is this:
Alonso will play on the weakside. Either Timmons, Misi or McMillan will be in the middle, with the other working on the strong-side. Timmons is sure to see the field; McMillan and Misi, who missed much of last year with a neck injury, will likely compete for snaps.
If past is prologue, expect the rookie to win the job.
He’s not used to sitting on the bench, leading Ohio State in tackles in both 2015 and 2016. McMillan was one of Urban Meyer’s all-time favorite players to coach, Grier said.
“He was a guy we absolutely loved,” the Dolphins executive said. “Talk about an alpha guy. He’s a two-time captain. A guy who makes all the calls there. ... This guy really understands football.”
“He’s a tackling machine.”
Asked to describe his game, McMillan responded: “I’m a leader on defense.”
But does he have the speed to play at the highest level? That was the knock on McMillan coming out. It was why some draft insiders thought he’d go a round later than he did.
Grier tried to get ahead of that narrative when he met with reporters, pointing out that the 6-2, 240-pound McMillan ran a 4.61 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“The guy can run,” Grier insisted.
And he’s a quick study. The Dolphins were sold on his acumen after meeting with him at the Combine. They liked him so much, the Dolphins decided that bringing McMillan to South Florida for a pre-draft interview would have been a waste of a visit.
He’ll be in town next week for the team’s rookie minicamp, joining Missouri pass rusher Charles Harris, taken by the Dolphins in Round 1. It’s the first time the Dolphins have used their first two picks on defense since 2013 and just the third time they’ve done so since 1996.
So now, after tens of millions of new dollars spent and a second-round pick used on linebackers, is the position fixed?
“We feel good about it,” Grier said. “But if there's opportunities through draft or free agency, we'll look to continue to add.”