For months now, one question has been on the lips of Dolphins fans since the team invested money and draft picks into upgrading the linebacker corps: Who will be the team's starting middle linebacker?
Assumptions were made that it would most likely be newly signed veteran Lawrence Timmons, who spent the last decade as a key piece of the Pittsburgh Steelers LB unit and is known for his ability to stop the run, which is what teams generally look for in middle linebackers.
Not to mention, the pressure and responsibility of being the captain of the defense - which is generally relegated to the middle linebacker - would be thrust upon whoever is given the role for Miami, further leading people to believe either Timmons or Alonso would be given the first looks.
But on Day 2 of training camp, the Miami Dolphins spent some time in scrimmages in the base defense, and the chosen middle linebacker was rookie Raekwon McMillan.
“I’m comfortable at Mike but we’ve been switching out and doing a lot of things out here." McMillan said on Friday. "But I’m very comfortable out there at Mike.”
McMillan was a middle linebacker at Ohio State, which McMillan stated was the best program in the nation, which means he does have some experience calling plays from that position.
“Yes. I call the plays." he said. "I get the huddle call for the guys and get everything lined up. But then from there, everybody makes their own checks and calls too.”
Naturally, the idea of a rookie getting the first look at the most important linebacker spot ahead of two seasoned veterans who have experience in an NFL defense would raise some eyebrows, but as usual, head coach Adam Gase merely shrugged it off, viewing it as a non-issue.
“That’s why we drafted him. He’s really smart." Gase said. "That’s the least of my worries. He does a good job of being vocal. He’s very clear. He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to make mistakes because that’s part of it; but a lot of the things are still done by Kiko (Alonso). It’s not as big of a deal as a lot of people think.”
It's been stated several times that the linebacker position would be a fluid one, with players switching in and out at different positions as time goes on. Perhaps it means nothing in the long run, or perhaps it shows that the coaching staff trusts McMillan enough to let him take charge and be a starter, especially with the loss of Koa Misi for the season (and possibly forever).
But one thing that Gase said can't be disputed: This is what McMillan was drafted for, and the young Ohio State standout will no doubt get more opportunities to prove himself worthy to be a starter as training camp and the preseason progresses.
And McMillan is ready for the challenge.
it’s definitely a goal of mine; but it’s a long-term goal." McMillan said. "What I have to focus on is getting better tomorrow and focusing on what I did wrong today so I can get better tomorrow.”
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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