Barry Jackson

Three key players are back at Dolphins OTAs after missing 2017 season to injury

Former Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan returned to practice Tuesday after sustaining a significant knee injury in his first NFL preseason snap last August.
Former Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan returned to practice Tuesday after sustaining a significant knee injury in his first NFL preseason snap last August. AP

Some Dolphins notes on a Tuesday:

The Dolphins’ first official OTA practice of the offseason included full participation from three key players whose 2017 seasons were wiped out by injury: quarterback Ryan Tannehill, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Tony Lippett.

Tannehill, who was medically cleared from his August knee injury, was not at all limited in practice. He appeared to be walking Tuesday without a knee brace, based on brief video shared by the team on social media.

One involved person said earlier this month that he has looked very good throwing the ball in informal workouts.

McMillan’s return is good news because he is expected to be the starting middle linebacker.

“If it works out the way we think it can and hope it does, that’s a huge acquisition for us,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said earlier this month of McMillan.

McMillan was drafted 54th overall by Miami 13 months ago after producing 102 tackles during the 2016 season at Ohio State.

"We really felt like he was just starting to take that step when we got him going before he got injured,” Burke said.“We had high hopes for him last year. Nothing he’s done since then has discouraged that. He’s been really in-tune, been really sharp. He’s got all the leadership skills and things that we look for, especially at that position.

“He’s worked his (butt) off to get better. He’s rehabbed. He’s in here every day. He hasn’t shown any limitations so far, which has been encouraging. Hopefully he’s a big piece for us. I’m encouraged by him and I’m excited to see him get some work.”

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, is asked about rookie linebacker and 2nd round draft pick Raekown McMillan's injury in the teams first preseason game with the Atlanta Falcons.

Though he was victimized on crossing routes at times – including in the January 2017 Pittsburgh playoff game – Lippett was a much improved player in 2016, picking off four passes and showing signs that he could be a reliable boundary cornerback. He tore his Achilles during a practice last August.

Now he’s back with a chance to battle Cordrea Tankersley for a starting cornerback job while also trying to stave off competition from young cornerbacks Torry McTyer (who made the team as undrafted free agent last year) and rookies Cornell Armstrong, Jalen Davis and Jonathan Alston.

Incidentally, Wednesday’s practice will be the first open to reporters.

The Dolphins looked closely at Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks two years ago before acquiring Kiko Alonso in a trade that also brought Byron Maxwell from the Eagles to Miami.

As colleague Armando Salguero reported previously, the Dolphins weren't interested in Kendricks at that time, instead preferring Alonso.

The Dolphins – and the rest of the league – now have another chance to sign Kendricks, who was surprisingly released by Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Kendricks – who can play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense like Miami's – was released after declining to take a pay cut, according to NFL writer and Sirius XM host Adam Caplan, who said Philadelphia tried to move Kendricks, but found no takers for a contract that had two years left and would have paid him $5.85 million in base salary in 2018.

Pro Football Focus rated Kendricks the ninth-best linebacker in the league last season – 13th against the run and 26th against the pass.

He had 77 tackles, six passes defended, two sacks, 16 pressures and just one touchdown allowed in coverage for the Super Bowl champions last year, appearing in 15 regular-season games and starting 13.

He started all three playoff games last season and had four tackles in the Super Bowl victory against New England.

Kendricks, 27, started most of the Eagles’ games over the past six seasons and had three interceptions, 14 sacks, six forced fumbles and 459 tackles.

Based on his body of work, Kendricks would seem an upgrade over any potential veteran third linebacker that Miami has on its roster to start alongside Alonso and McMillan – a group that is highlighted by Stephone Anthony and Chase Allen and also includes Mike Hull and veteran offseason addition Terence Garvin.

The Dolphins drafted Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker in the third round but it remains to be seen whether he's a three-down linebacker.

Baker’s specialty is pass coverage, but the Dolphins would not have drafted him in the third round if they believed he would be a big liability against the run, even at 225 pounds.

“What Baker has in athletic ability and speed, he lacks in strength and toughness against the run,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said. “Baker's junior season failed to impress and teams will have to decide if he's a sub-package linebacker or a three-down talent.”

According to the NFL union’s web site, Miami has just $233,778 in cap space, but $17 million more in cap space will be freed up from Ndamukong Suh’s dead money on June 1.

The Dolphins will use that money to sign their draft class and eventually a practice squad. They have said they also would be willing to use some of that money on a veteran at a need position who becomes available but also would be content carrying over some unused space into next offseason.

One analyst who really likes what the Dolphins added offensively in the draft?

NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks, who’s a former NFL player and former Carolina and Seattle scout.

“Keep an eye on Kalen Ballage as one of the RBs that produces above his draft status,” he tweeted. “The @MiamiDolphins new RB is a big back with outstanding potential as a combo playmaker (runner/receiver) out of the backfield. Ballage could be a terrific pro in a pass-first system.”

And of the selection of tight end Mike Gesicki, Brooks said: “Love it, love it. Does a great job of winning his matchups in the red zone. He’s going to play on the outside, he’s going to play in the slot. He’s one of these new age tight ends. He’s going to wear out linebackers and defensive backs with his athleticism.”

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