The Miami Dolphins drafted Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, and the former Buckeye standout was touted as one of the draft's top linebackers that year. So naturally, the Dolphins were excited to get him out on the field as soon as possible.
One year later, McMillan finally got a chance to play on defense for the first time against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first "real" NFL preseason game.
"It was fun, I had a chance to finally get out there and do what I love to do." McMillan said after the game. "Last year was cut short because of injury, but this year, I'm finally glad to be back out there on the field."
As everyone is already painfully aware, McMillan tore his ACL while lining up on special teams on the very first play of his first preseason game last season against the Atlanta Falcons, forcing the then-rookie to watch from the sidelines and miss out on playing with his teammates.
But this year, McMillan is not on the sidelines anymore.
"When you actually have your hands on it, and you have a chance to impact the game, it's a little different." McMillan said. "Sitting there on the sidelines, you don't really have an impact, you just try to lead from the side, but being out there on the field with the guys with the bullets flying is different."
Those bullets, obviously, fly a lot faster when you're actually in the game, as the mind has to read faster and the body has to react quicker, constantly watching to make sure you're in position or something will go wrong. But despite playing in real-game action for the first time in his NFL career, McMillan said that the speed of the game was not an issue for him.
"In practice, it's the same speed." he said. "Offense goes at a fast pace so we kinda got a good look ... but the game is always a little different. The Buccaneers did a good job of coming out and hitting some plays on us, but I think right when I was getting a feel for the game, it was time for the starters to come out."
McMillan played only a total of 14 snaps against the Buccaneers, and only recorded one tackle in his limited playing time. He struggled to keep up on the field and seemed to be late to a lot of plays, with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him off his groove with how he handled the football.
And McMillan knows he could have done much better than he did.
"I've always felt like I could've played a little bit better," McMillan said. "Nobody plays the perfect game, but hopefully one day I can."
McMillan is determined at least, and in all fairness to him, he is technically a year behind in his development because of his injury. But based on the 393 total yards the defense gave up (not to mention the three touchdowns), the Miami Dolphins will need McMillan to grow up quickly if they want 2018 to go well on defense.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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