A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Friday:
▪ Biggest surprise of the first two days of training camp?
Seeing former Canadian Football League linebacker Samuel Eguavoen on the field at the start of team drills, alongside the other starters, with Raekwon McMillan on the bench.
McMillan finally got some first-team work in the second half of Friday’s practice, and it’s still difficult to envision him not playing a lot on first and second down on this team.
But third down is another story. One reason McMillan was on the bench to open team drills the first two days of camp was because Miami opened in a nickel package with only two linebackers (Jerome Baker and Eguavoen) and five defensive backs, and McMillan’s pass coverage is considered his shortcoming.
Kiko Alonso was also off the field in those opening-snap lineups in team drills Thursday and Friday.
But McMillan knows he must improve in pass coverage to fulfill his career goal of being an every-down linebacker.
Being viewed as a three-down linebacker is “very important,” McMillan conceded this week, while adding he’s happy to play any role he’s asked. “I want to be the best linebacker in the league, but my coaches will put me where they think I’m best at. I want to improve my overall game so I can get on the field a little bit more.”
To do that, McMillan will need to improve his poor pass coverage metrics. And toward that goal, McMillan lost weight this offseason, determined to improve his quickness.
“I had to work on myself, my personal self,” McMillan said, adding that he reported Thursday at 239 pounds, down from 245 last season. “I’m moving a little better. Hopefully it will translate to the field. Everyone knows I need to get quicker, I need to get faster.”
How did he lose the weight?
“Not eat everywhere,” he said. “South Florida has got that good food. Just stay away from it. Stay away from going home [for] grandma’s food. I cooked myself, stayed healthy.”
Pro Football Focus rated McMillan sixth among all linebackers against the run last season — his first year after missing his rookie year with a knee injury. What’s more, no NFL linebacker had more run stops (holding the opponent to a play that PFF deemed unsuccessful) during the final four weeks.
His 105 tackles tied for 29th in the league and his two forced fumbles tied for 30th.
But on the flip side, McMillan allowed 36 of 41 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught for 368 yards; his 143.6 passer rating against was second-worst among NFL linebackers and his six touchdowns allowed through the air were second most, behind only Tahair Whiteside.
That’s why it would be very surprising if McMillan plays on third down this season.
Coach Brian Flores said Friday that McMillan “has done a good job. I’m happy where he’s at. He came in in great shape. What I would like to see is consistent play, consistent communication, consistently knowing where to be.”
Last season, Alonso played 1,004 defensive snaps, McMillan 831 and Baker 679. This season, Baker could end up playing the most of the three.
McMillan knows he needs to be prepared for variations in playing time.
“Just like the Patriots — one game, someone might be starting; next game, he might not be playing at all,” he said. “It’s all about what the coaches feel will win us a championship and a game.”
Former Dolphins linebackers coach Frank Bush insists McMillan can shore up his pass coverage and asserted improvement “will come with experience. The more he sees things, the better off he will be because he will react faster. Sometimes the coverage is zone coverage and he’s out there reacting. The more he sees, the better he will be.”
▪ Eguavoen — who went undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2015 and had never before been in an NFL camp before this year — admitted it was meaningful to be on the field with the starters to open the first two days of practice.
“That meant a lot; it made me think faster,” he said. “It made me play fearless, but also I can’t mess up. I’ve got a lot of veterans around me. Communication was huge. I knew I had to step that up running with the first team. I am blessed with the opportunity to be in the NFL.”
Eguavoen, who’s 6-0 and 236 pounds, had 159 tackles, four sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles in three CFL seasons. The biggest difference between the leagues, aside from the size of the field and the talent level?
“The game in the NFL is more condensed,” he said. “You can’t take as many false steps. You take one bad step, the guy is gone. In CFL, there is more spacing.”
Eguavoen admitted Friday “it was hard playing in the so-called lower league. It’s kind of like ‘dang, I miss a tackle out there, I’m never going to make it in the NFL. It’s really hard on you mentally.’ But I stuck with it, stayed to the grind.”
Eguavoen said he worked out for 13 NFL teams after the 2018 CFL season ended and had several NFL offers but picked Miami because “I felt they’re in rebuilding process and everybody starting from ground zero.”
Flores likes what he has seen: “I saw speed, athleticism, tough kid, young talented guy. He’s done a good job.”
Eguavoen said at Texas Tech, “I feel I was better run player than coverage player. Now, I’m a better coverage linebacker” — which explains why he played with the starters in nickel packages.
▪ Notable lineup developments Friday: For the second day in a row, Ryan Fitzpatrick opened team drills with the first team, worked primarily with the starters and was pretty sharp. Josh Rosen again worked with the backups… Kalen Ballage opened as the first-team running back for the second consecutive day, though Kenyan Drake got some first-team work…. Chris Reed remained the starter at left guard and Jordan Mills at right tackle….
On defense, Tank Carradine and Nate Orchard were the first-team edge rushers, a day after Charles Harris and Jonathan Woodard opened in that role… Christian Wilkins continued to run with the starters at defensive tackle... Eric Rowe remained the first-team boundary cornerback opposite Xavien Howard and made two terrific plays in coverage…. Minkah Fitzpatrick has been working primarily in the slot but is preparing to play some safety, linebacker and boundary work.
▪ Quick stuff: Rookie linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was sidelined for most of practice, instead working on a stationary bicycle, because of an undisclosed injury… Albert Wilson was given the day off; the Dolphins are being cautious in his return from last season’s hip injury…
T.J. McDonald was removed from the PUP list and had a nice play in coverage… Even with McDonald back, Bobby McCain remained with the starters at free safety. Reshad Jones got some first- and second-team work… Brice Butler caught a couple of touchdowns….
Kudos to the Dolphins for paying Kendrick Norton’s $495,000 salary this season after his career-ending auto accident. His agent, Malki Kawa, said Brian Flores “came every day he was in town [to visit Norton in the hospital] and even cut his vacation short to be there for Kendrick.”
▪ First-round pick Wilkins, famously cautious with his money, said he has put aside nearly all of the $9.2 million signing bonus, which was part of his fully guaranteed four-year, $15.4 million contract.
In fact, he said he hasn’t spent on a car yet and is borrowing his girlfriend’s to get to work.
“I am trying to live off a specific number, still penny-pinching,” he said. “Still no car yet. Trying to be smart with money. I’m borrowing a car... from my girlfriend until I figure out my car situation. I think it will be a little while.”
Here are all the details and comments about Allen Hurns’ signing on Friday.