The evaluation of Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan through his rookie training camp in 2017 and most of his second-year training camp this year was not just good, but outstanding.
McMillan carries himself like a leader. He’s had a good grasp of the Miami defense in practice. He is performing well in those drills. He’s the starter.
And then the Dolphins played a football game.
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And in that football game -- last week against Tampa Bay in the preseason opener -- McMillan was not good. Like, really not good.
He seemed lost. He finished with one assisted tackle. On one play it seemed as if outside linebacker Kiko Alonso had to call the defensive signals, something that is McMillan’s job.
No wonder head coach Adam Gase, normally positive and effusive about his players, gave this answer when asked how McMillan’s NFL debut went:
“Like it was the first 14 plays of his NFL career,” Gase said. “We’ve got to keep working. We expected it. He was pretty juiced up before the game. That’s kind of done and now we’re moving onto the next one and this week, just keep getting better and when we hit that game, just play fast and make plays.”
Gase wasn’t meaning McMillan gets a pass because he played his first 14 NFL plays. He meant McMillan played his first 14 NFL plays and everyone could tell.
Fortunately for McMillan, who missed his entire rookie season because of an ACL knee injury, that first preseason game isn’t timeless. It is actually quickly forgotten.
McMillan can use it as a learning tool and, well, never play like that again.
“I learned that stuff happens fast in the NFL,” McMillan said. “It’s a fast game, a high speed game. It’s just about a next play mentality. When things aren’t rolling in our direction, you just have to find a way to flip the switch and turn it back around.”
McMillan obviously was rusty after missing 2017. He played as if unsure and as if he was thinking about what he was supposed to do instead of trusting his training and playing with instincts.
Now McMillan needs to put much better play on tape starting Friday night in the second preseason game against Carolina. And that, by the way, is his plan.
“The last game, I kind of was thinking a little bit but this game, I’m going out there and having fun,” McMillan promised.
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