Within a 30-minute interval in Friday’s game in Charlotte, we saw the best and worst of Raekwon McMillan.
On one play, he deftly snuffed out a screen pass for a two-yard loss. Then, later in the second quarter, he appeared disturbingly slow in unsuccessful chasing third-string tight end Ian Thomas on a 27-yard touchdown.
The early returns on the Dolphins’ starting middle linebacker are mixed.
Asked Sunday if McMillan is unequivocally the team’s starting middle linebacker this season – period, end of discussion – coach Adam Gase responded by saying he’s encouraged by what he’s seen.
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“Right now he’s doing a good job of going through the progression that we need to go through as really a first-year player,” Gase said. “I know it’s his second year, but we lost pretty much the entire season last year. He’s progressed well and I feel like he’s getting better. After watching this game, you saw some things where he cut it loose. He’s thinking less. He wants to do a lot of the things that you want a Mike linebacker to do. I think it’s trending in the right direction.”
The Dolphins are committed to McMillan as their starter this season and that’s understandable considering he was a second-round pick and a top prospect out of Ohio State a year ago. They’re convinced he has the skill set, maturity and intelligence to thrive. Chase Allen is his primary backup.
Gase, presumably referring to McMillan and first-team rookie strongside linebacker Jerome Baker, said: “We’ve got two young linebackers back there that, we’ll get those guys up to speed and they’ll be doing it right once we hit this thing that first week. We have athletic guys in that second level and we’ll get the [run-stopping] fits right, because that’s going to be on us as coaches. We’ll give those guys an opportunity to make plays and they’ll make them.”
A year after his rookie season was wiped out because of a knee injury on the opening kickoff of the first preseason game, McMillan said he felt more confidence in his second preseason game than his first.
“I had a chance to go out there and play free,” he said. “Had first game jitters out. I played with a lot more energy.”
On the 71-yard touchdown run by Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, McMillan was one of several players who couldn’t dislodge quickly enough from a block.
“They schemed us up pretty good,” McMillan said. “They know we play wide nine. So they came in tight with the tight end and cut off one of our linebackers and we couldn’t get over the top. Simple thing we hadn’t seen yet.”
Gase said Sunday that cornerback Bobby McCain “had a chance to save the day” on that run but “got a little too aggressive.”
On the touchdown pass to Thomas, McMillan said: “My man came under me, so we passed it off and as soon I as I looked back, he was running full speed. He came fast on me and I didn’t have a chance to get my legs. Something easy we can work on.”
On his tackle for loss, McMillan said: “I shot between the guard and tackle and made a play in the backfield. It’s something we worked on and something Kiko [Alonso] alerted me before the play.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Gase said Cordrea Tankersley, who started 11 games last season but struggled badly against Carolina, must play more to his strengths, including his 6-1 frame. Tankersley has lost ground in his battle for a starting job.
“Get your hands up,” Gase said. “His length and his ability to run, those are his strengths. When we see him press, we want him to put hands on the receiver and jar that guy at the line of scrimmage. I think that’s the No. 1 thing. If he does that consistently, I think that’s where he really has an advantage over guys because even if he misses, he has that speed that he can catch up to that guy. He just needs to use his strengths and apply them as much as possible. I think sometimes he just gets away from it sometimes and it’s hard to explain sometimes. When you’re a tall corner that’s long and fast, use your skills.”
▪ Gase said receiver Kenny Stills and cornerback Tony Lippett - who both missed Friday’s game with ankle injuries – are expected back at practice this week, in advance of Miami’s third preseason game Saturday against visiting Baltimore.
Lippett hadn’t been working recently on either the first or second team before his injury and is still regaining his form after last August’s torn Achilles. “I feel closer to myself,” he said, adding that one of the challenges after that significant an injury “is knowing that you’re good.”
▪ Defensive tackle Kendall Langford played 18 snaps on Friday, just four days after being signed. Langford had been out of the league since November but Gase said he “crushed” his conditioning test during his Dolphins workout last week.
“His name kept coming up since the spring,” Gase said. “[Dolphins defensive lineman] Will Hayes was getting on me pretty good about ‘just take a look at my guy.’
“It’s been a while since he’s even thrown on pads. For him to come in there and not have any errors, and just minor technique things that we just do different that he hasn’t really done before, I thought it was a great sign for us. Having a guy that’s a veteran guy that basically everybody in this building respects, it’s good to have him here.”
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