If there is one thing that can be said about the Miami Dolphins’ 2017 draft class, it is that they all seem to recognize their need to learn before they can excel. Earlier today, we took a look at first-round pick Charles Harris and his statements that he is going to be Cameron Wake’s annoying little brother, trying to sponge as much as he possibly can from the Pro Bowl defensive end. Second-round pick, linebacker Raekwon McMillan expressed the same type of mentality later in the day - though he did not specify one particular player he was going to emulate.
“Not any one player, but there are guys that I’ll deal with more than others," McMillan told reporters at his rookie minicamp press conference. "I’ll have to deal with the linebackers more than others. I’m not saying anybody in particular because I can learn from everybody. I can learn from somebody who came in with me. Sometimes you have to sit back and watch to learn. That’s what I’m doing right now, sitting back and observing and finding my position to where I can help this organization out.”
McMillan played three years at Ohio State, earning playing time as a true freshman at middle linebacker. He totaled 275 tackles in his three seasons, leading the team the last two years, along with 18 tackles for loss, six sacks, one interception with a touchdown, ten passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer described McMillan as one of this favorite players to have ever coached.
“I was kind of a team leader out there., McMillan explained. "My freshman year, I kind of sat back a little bit because it wasn’t my place, it wasn’t my time. But my sophomore year, going into my sophomore year, I wasn’t a team captain but I was the leader of the defense. My junior year, I was a captain of the program. Everything that Ohio State stands for, you can see through me. As I walked around campus on and off the field, I presented myself to show good representation for The Ohio State University.”
McMillan, who admitted he is named after Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan because his mom “just liked the name,” is seen as a good tackling linebacker who can help the Dolphins defense in the run game, but will likely have to move outside - at least initially - at the NFL level, rather than playing middle linebacker. McMillan is not bothered by the potential position changed, "Yes, like everyone around here is talking about, wherever coach needs me to play, I’ll go out there at the linebacker position and do my job. They brought in some vets, [Lawrence] Timmons from the Steelers, Kiko [Alonso] and some of the other guys here. It’s a team effort. It’s not just one guy going out there and trying to make a big difference. It’s us all out there playing together and putting up a team effort to stop the run.”
The Dolphins struggled against the run last year, with tackling a part of the issue. McMillan comes to Miami with the reputation as a string tackler. He explained how he developed his tackling ability fairly simply, stating, “It’s something that we practiced a lot at Ohio State. 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.”
He then spoke about what makes a tackler better - the tackling technique or the desire to tackle. “I’d say it’s a little bit of both," McMillan explained. "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.”
Miami is expected to slot McMillan as a strong-side linebacker this year, competing with Koa Misi for the starting role next to Lawrence Timmons and opposite Kiko Alonso. The Dolphins announced over the weekend that McMillan had signed his rookie contract, a four-year deal expected to pay him about $4.7 million over the life of the contract or about $1.2 million per season.