The first step for Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan was nursing his surgically reconstructed knee back to health and no longer wondering about it being weak or, worse, re-injuring it.
“By OTAs [in the Spring] I was still thinking about it, still wondering if it was strong enough to take every snap,” McMillan said Friday after the team’s second practice session of training camp. “... But I finally feel like I’m back to where I was and it feels better than it was in camp last year.”
That’s good news for the Dolphins, who selected McMillan in the second round of the 2017 draft. McMillan played only one preseason snap, and that on special teams, when he was injured.
But already he’s been tapped as Miami’s 2018 starting middle linebacker. That’s good for McMillan but he wants more.
NFL middle linebackers, you see, rarely play on obvious passing downs and some teams have gone so far as to play in nickel as a base defense to defend against the pass. With teams passing sometimes 65-68 percent of downs, typical middle linebackers could be limited to 20-25 plays per game.
McMillan wants to do more than that. He wants to play on passing downs.
“That’s my whole objective and goal from the offseason — dropping weight so I can stay on the field all the time,” McMillan said. “That’s every middle linebacker’s dream, being able to stay on the field. The game now, on third down, you see most middle linebackers come out of the game, like you said.
“For me staying in the game it’s all about staying in shape and knowing what I’ve got to do and where I need to be. It’s being a positive on the field. If I’m a weak link, they’ll take me off the field.”
It takes a special middle linebacker to play all three downs in today’s NFL and it may be asking too much to ask that of a player who has never been in a regular-season game.
But I’m told the issue will be decided by how well McMillan shows coaches he can carry out his assignments on pass downs. (Last year the Dolphins were frustrated with Lawrence Timmons often being in the wrong place).
It also may depend on what type of passing downs the Dolphins face. Long passing situations might require more of a dime (six defensive back) look for the Dolphins defense. Shorter passing downs might present McMillan with a chance to stay on the field.
The Dolphins will experiment throughout training camp and the preseason before deciding.