When the Miami Dolphins drafted linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the second round of the NFL draft this year, fans were ecstatic. McMillan was considered by some to be a potential first round pick, and when he was still available, the Dolphins pounced to take him with the 54th pick overall. Paired with first round pick defensive end Charles Harris, McMillan is expected to start immediately and be an impact player on the Dolphins defensive front.
The quick linebacker from Ohio State fits the bill as the smart, hard-tackling presence that the Dolphins sorely need. And while still learning and acclimating to the changes from college to professional football, McMillan definitely understands his role. Just listen to the guy talk, and you can’t help but see his natural leadership.
"My skill - I call it a skill - but coachability,” says McMillan. “A lot of players come up with a hot head and think they're this and think they're that. But being coachable, it's a skill that not a lot of people have learned to sustain over their career. Once they think they're a starter, they think they've got it. So being coachable goes out the window.”
Not so for McMillan.
“Ever since I stepped foot on campus and at Ohio State all the way until my junior year when I left, I always went into the meetings with a notebook and pen and wrote down notes and (have) been coachable. Same thing when I got here. The transition into my rookie year, one of my goals was to be coachable. When I'm up, when I'm having a good time, when I'm getting picks in practice, and when I'm messing up play after play, just be coachable."
McMillan has already found how much different football is at the professional level, but he also knows that playing for an elite team in college has prepared him well for the rigors, mentally as well as physically, in the NFL.
“At Ohio State, we did a lot of the things that we do here, but less complex,” says McMillan. “Way less complex. In an NFL game, we go into all the different types of route combinations that the offense can give us. And it's an elite level of players, so you've got to change it up every now and then. But playing at the best of the best in college, it helped me out a lot. It helped me adjust to the speed of the game here.”
“Just on the mental side, we did a lot of things at Ohio State that helped us transition to the NFL,” McMillan continued. “Coming here, the only thing that's going to help you get to where you want to be is reps - going out there and doing it, staying healthy … being available, and being coachable."
One of the more notable improvements in head coach Adam Gase’s first season, and a huge reason for the team’s 9-2 finish, was the ability to finish strong and win games in the fourth quarter. That didn’t happen by coincidence, something else that McMillan learned in college.
“It's something that you train for,” he says. “You're only prepared to what your training is. So you train for that during the offseason. The hardest part of our workouts at Ohio State was the end of the workout. It was hard throughout, but we've got to turn it up towards the end. That’s kind of our mindset here as well. Always train for the fourth quarter. Always finish. At the end of the game, when it's a close game, it's all about finishing. That's what we're practicing. That's what we preach.”
Words like that have to make Dolphins fans happy. After years of watching a lack of physicality and sloppy tackling, fans can take heart that this year’s draft class know how to put in the work. The steadfast commitment, both physically and mentally, is a welcome respite. Some may scoff at the team’s slogans and mantras since Gase arrived, but even the rookies have taken note. And they do help, especially on the mental side.
"It's physical and mental,” insists McMillan. “You can train yourself mentally too, so when you're tired, not (to) worry about the outside distractions. You really focus in, and lock-in to what you're doing. ‘Zero-in’ like we say around here. And get the job done mentally and physically.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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