Tackling has become something of a lost art in the NFL these days, with missed ankle tackles and failed arm tackles turning into an all-too common occurrence. The Miami Dolphins also fell victim to this, which helped contribute to them having the 30th ranked rushing defense in the NFL in 2016.
Which is what the Dolphins had in mind when they went into the 2017 offseason. They extended Kiko Alonso, signed former Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons, and of course they drafted Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the second round to try and shore up the rushing defense and add versatility to the linebacker corps.
"For the way we play our defense, we play with three off the ball guys." said defensive coordinator Matt Burke. "Again, like week to week, there’s different challenges of ‘the Sam (linebacker) is going to match up with this guy one time’ or ‘the inside linebacker is going to be asked to do this.’ So I don’t see … I know everyone’s on to Raekwon.
"Earlier it was about Kiko. ‘Where are we going to play Kiko?’ Kiko is a good football player and we’re going to utilize his skillset. The same thing (Head Coach) Adam (Gase)’s always talked about, we’re going to put our players in the best position to be successful and to help us win."
McMillan in particular offers a lot of talent and upside, and at only 20 years old, he has plenty of time to develop into a solid linebacker. For now though, he can bring his terrific tackling ability to the table, which is something that in recent years has been lacking in the Miami defense.
“It’s something that we practiced a lot at Ohio State." McMillan said during his first press conference. "We practiced a different tackling style – the eyes through the thigh, wrap and roll, sweep the ankles tackle technique. We went over it every day in practice. Even though we weren’t allowed to have a bunch of contact, we always finished in football position, in tackling position. It helped us and it showed out there on the field, rarely missing tackles.”
With McMillan's expertise in tackling and potential for development, in time he could potentially become the team's next starting middle linebacker. Until then, maybe he can use his skills developed at Ohio State to help the team get their technique in tackling right. Though according to the young rookie, tackling is about desire as well as technique, and it's clear that McMillan has all the desire he needs.
“I’d say it’s a little bit of both." McMillan said. "First, you have to get there. If you don’t have any desire or effort to get there, then you’re not going to make any tackles. So yes, you have to have some desire to get to the football, see ball, get ball, have some instincts. Then when you get there, you have to finish.”
If all goes well, McMillan will be able to finish on the field in the big leagues, and give the Dolphins a much-needed lift in run defense.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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