Back From Knee Injury, Dolphins' McMillan Ready for Contact

On the second day of training camp Friday, Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan spent much of the morning dropping into pass coverage and chasing tight ends, running backs and even speedy receiver Kenny Stills.

It'll be different Saturday, when the Dolphins put on pads for the first time and conduct contact drills.

"That's what middle linebackers live for," McMillan said with a grin, "so I'm ready for all of that."

Especially since McMillan hasn't had much of a chance to make an impact in the NFL. The 2017 second-round draft pick from Ohio State won raves and a starting job in his first few months as a pro, but on his first play in the first exhibition game, he blew out his right knee covering a punt.

"First injury I've had ever — college, high school, little league," he said.

The torn ACL sidelined McMillan for his entire rookie season. He participated in offseason drills this spring still mindful of his surgically repaired knee, but is now more confident it'll hold up.

"On the field I don't really think about it much at all," he said. "In OTAs I was still thinking about it. I was still worrying about whether it was strong enough, or if it was ready yet to take every snap. I finally feel like I'm back to where I was."

That sounds good to coach Adam Gase, who considers his evaluation of McMillan incomplete only because the former Butkus Award finalist has yet to play in an NFL game.

"Everything else tells us he's exactly what we drafted him to be," Gase said.

A year ago, McMillan impressed coaches with his aptitude and leadership skills, and he thrived in contact drills.

He's expected to bolster a defense that needs him after ranking fourth-worst in the league in points allowed last year. The upgrade parallels the return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who's back after suffering a season-ending injury one week before McMillan was hurt.

The veteran QB and rookie linebacker rehabbed together, to the benefit of both.

"They did a good job of pushing each other," Gase said. "You hate to say it was good they had each other to go through that with, because it hurt us not to have them. But it was good for those two guys to have that other guy."

McMillan said Tannehill helped him cope with the frustration and physical challenges of recovery.

"Throughout the whole rehab process, Ryan kind of walked me through what I was going to feel, how I was going to feel and some of the pains I was going to have, and how to get through them," McMillan said.

He began to envision a career as an NFL middle linebacker when he first arrived at Ohio State and discussed his future with head coach Urban Meyer and an assistant coach.

"They sat me to the side and told me that was going to be the best position for me, for my future and for my family," he said. "So I took that and ran with it."

On the night the Dolphins drafted McMillan, he cried tears of joy. Now, after an unlucky interruption, he's back on track toward fulfilling his potential. Time to put on the pads.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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