In case you were wondering, this is NOT a story about Ryan Tannehill or Colin Kaepernick. You’re welcome. It is, however, an examination of one of the position battles we thought we would be watching...the linebackers.
What we were told:
Before camp started we heard a lot of lofty ideas bandied about: Mirror OLB’ers, position flexibility, playing guys in multiple spots etc. etc. etc. We heard about Kiko Alonso at middle or weak side linebacker. We heard about Lawrence Timmons as the strong side or middle linebacker. We heard about Koa Misi and what he specifically brings to the team. We even heard about rookies Raekwon McMillan and his versatility at middle or strong side linebacker. That’s a lot of hoopla over one position group. Granted, it’s a position group that has been in desperate need of a makeover for years now. (Ireland Fail!)
What we have talked about:
After being told all of these wonderfully exciting sounding things we did what any good fan base would. We spent our time daydreaming the possibilities. They could play Kiko at MLB with Timmons and McMillan playing mirror spots against heavy ground teams, or even Misi, McMillan, Timmons. They could play Kiko at the WLB and go with Timmons and Misi at MLB and SLB respectively and let the rookie “ride pine” and have a redshirt year. Or McMillan could take Misi’s spot immediately and Timmons plays the MLB with Kiko on the WLB spot. That last scenario was the one I was looking at as the most likely scenario. At the bare minimum I was expecting to see some sort of mixing up of the combinations.
What have we seen so far in camp:
Well, Mike Hull started on day one with the first team linebackers at MLB. Flanking him were Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons at the WLB and SLB spots respectively. The men are too far apart in size and skill set to be playing mirror positions. After Day 1? All Raekwon McMillan at MLB with the starters. And it hasn’t changed too much since then. With all three “starting” linebackers having experience at the MLB position. Admittedly, I was surprised to see the rookie and the third year former UDFA get the nods at that important position. Though, it was mentioned last year that Hull was considered the best of the backups and that getting the best 3 linebackers on the field last season would have involved a midseason transition to WLB for Alonso (which the team opted out of doing). For a position group that was supposed to be exciting to watch, this one is turning out to be a snoozer.
What does it all mean and why is it happening:
Koa Misi being put on IR for the second year in a row certainly threw a wrench into any plan that might have involved him. Poof, one down. After that, you have Timmons, McMillan whom might be able to play the SLB spot, beyond them you are looking at guys like Trevor Reilly (who?). The caveat here is that Timmons is the savvy vet who can learn his assignments with relative ease. McMillan is a rookie who spent the last few years playing the MLB spot. As a coach, you want to cross train the kid, but you can’t inundate him too much either. If he is going to be expected to start, I want him to do so in his natural position. All of this basically puts Kiko in the WLB position as he is the only one of the starters who is capable. I know some would argue he can’t play the position either, but it seems the coaches respectfully disagree.
Misi not being an option closed down this group pretty quickly. Barring some miraculous transformation from Hull or Hewitt...I just do not see anything changing here. What might be more interesting is to watch who goes out for the nickel package. It could still be Timmons and Alonso, which would be unusual, then again, so is having three linebackers who can all play the MLB spot. I could also be completely off base and they are only showing the media and the fans one thing while they play around with different combinations during closed practices. Such is the nature of covering training camp; trying to extrapolate as much meaning from the minute amount of information being given.