Armando Salguero

Emotional Raekwon McMillan has to be about business of improving Miami Dolphins defense

Raekwon McMillan is on the phone with South Florida reporters and he is weeping. It’s not that he’s choked up or needs a moment to compose himself between words.

This 6-foot-2 and 240-pound linebacker — one of the few big 4-3 linebackers in the draft, according to an NFL personnel man who texts me — is crying.

“I’m just happy to be in the situation I’m in,” McMillan says, the tears beginning. “I just want to say thank you, God, for everything that He has done for me.

“I have my family here. It’s just a blessing to be able to change all our lives.”

It’s wonderful that at such a time as this, when all this young man’s work and sweat and sacrifice with which only he is intimately familiar, pays off with a call from an NFL team that all that pent up ... stuff .. within him gets released into a stream of emotion and tears.

“It’s amazing,” McMillan says through the tears. “All this hard work is finally coming to light. It’s time to get back to work.”

I’m surprised. And moved.

I’ve heard hundreds of these phone calls with Dolphins draft picks in all my years covering this team. I’ve heard players struggle to find words. I’ve heard players brag. I’ve heard players laugh.

But never this.

Only moments before, McMillan was on the phone with the Dolphins brain trust. He talked to general manager Chris Grier. He spoke to coaches. And he was calm.

“I think as you get to know the kid, and like I said, he’s a very calm and flat-line person,” Grier says, “nothing’s ever too big for him. Which is what when you talk to the coaches there, Urban Meyer absolutely loves this guy. He says he was one of his favorite players he’s ever coached.

“But the culmination of everything probably hit him because when we talked to him, I was telling him, ‘Get excited, man.’ And he was like, ‘Yes, sir. I am really excited to come to Miami.’ I’m ‘Come on!’ It was one of those. We all got off the phone and everyone was like, ‘Wow. he’s completely calm.’

“To hear you guys say that [he’s emotional] is surprising because with us it was, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’ Good, let’s go.”

This is the first I’ve heard of a player changing practically one moment to the next. That doesn’t matter. This is the first time I’ve heard anything on a conference call as touching as McMillan’s call.

It made me feel like I wanted to hug this kid.

And now it’s up to Raekwon McMillan to make you want to hug him, too.

Yes, this is the part where we move on from the emotion of Friday’s selection and start getting to business. Because the NFL is a business. And McMillan’s business is now to be the Dolphins’ starting strongside linebacker.

It is his business to tackle without missing — something the Dolphins failed to do too often last season and something McMillan’s reputation says he won’t do.

It is this draft pick’s business to unseat veteran Koa Misi from the starting lineup. Maybe not at the start of training camp. Maybe not by the start of the 2017 season.

But at some point during the coming season, Raekwon McMillan needs to be ready to start because recent history suggests the injury-prone Misi won’t last the season. And unlike last season when the Dolphins were signing players off the street in September to replace an injured Misi, this year the Misi replacement has to be part an answer instead of a question.

Misi’s replacement has to be part of the future because I don’t see the veteran on the team beyond 2017.

Raekwon McMillan has to be all those things.

That’s his job now.

And the Dolphins believe he’ll be up to the assignment.

“When you talk to the guys at Ohio State, they talk about this guy’s intellect, how smart he is, how he can line up everybody,” Grier says. “When we met with him at the Combine, it was easy. He’s talking football, telling where the corner [and] safety is, the front, moving the front ... He understands it. This is a guy that, if you talk to him, he’s like flat-line and calm. He’s one of those. He gets into the playbook.

“He’ll learn this quickly and we do anticipate him making an impact.”

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter:@ArmandoSalguero

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