The Miami Dolphins lost their starting inside linebacker before he even played one defensive snap of his career. Miami has overcome adversity before and that is exactly what they must do again.
Adam Gase has been given difficult circumstances in his first two seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, but he has been unfazed and stuck to his â€˜next man upâ€™ mentality in which he instilled into his team.
First it was Reshad Jones, then the highly coveted Xavien Howard, then the gifted Mike Pouncey, then Arian Foster, then Koa Misi, then Ryan Tannehill, then Isa Abdul-Quddus, then Ted Larsen, then Tannehill again and now Raekwon McMillan. Some will just say that every team goes through the same amount of injuries, but that is just not the case.
Losing your franchise quarterback two seasons in a row is a difficult pill to swallow. Reshad Jones and Mike Pouncey are Pro Bowlers who can change a game. Misi, Foster, IAQ, Larsen, Tannehill and McMillan were all starters. Very few teams lose as many players to injury as the Miami Dolphins over the last two years.
But the Miami Dolphins still made the playoffs in 2016-2017.
That leads us to the philosophy of ‘Next Man Up’. Adam Gase takes each injury as it comes and simply inserts the backup player and instills the same amount of confidence in him as he would the starter. That worked in 2016 and Dolphins fans are hoping it happens again in 2017.
In Raekwon McMillan’s case, it hurts a little more than usual. He was the youngest player on the roster at 20 years old and had a promising future ahead of him as he took over the starting middle linebacker position in Coach Burke’s base defense. This was going to allow him to quarterback the defense at 20 years old which is an incredibly difficult task in today’s NFL.
But with McMillan now likely shelved for the 2017 season, we look on to the next person and keep chugging forward.
That player would be Mike Hull, the former undrafted free agent entering his third season with the team. It would be wise for Coach Burke to consider moving either Lawrence Timmons or Kiko Alonso back to the MIKE linebacker spot, sliding either Neville Hewitt in the WILL spot or Hull in the SAM.
For now, we will assume that everybody stays put and Mike Hull seizes the middle linebacker spot.
Mike Hull has shown flashes of efficient play over the past two seasons, but has yet to put a full quality under his belt to show coaches he can play well in the NFL. With a starting spot up for grabs, expect Hull to turn it up a gear in the upcoming practices leading up to the regular season.
Mike Hull certainly has what it takes to run Miami’s defense, as he’s been here long enough to understand the schemes and execute them well. If he conquers the MIKE position, he just might become a fan favorite for the team. His story will be a great one based on his road to the starting position.
If Mike Hull is not the primary beneficiary, then it will be Neville Hewitt, his buddy from the exact same situation in the same draft class. Both Hewitt and Hull came to Dolphins camp as undrafted free agents competing for a roster spot. Two years later, they are competing for a starting spot in the 4-3 base defense.
Sliding Kiko Alonso back into the starting middle linebacker position will open a spot at WILL linebacker; Hewitt’s natural position. Neville has received praise from both Vance Joseph and Matt Burke in the past two offseasons. Maybe he finally puts it all together on the field and establishes himself as a true linebacker that can cover receivers and shed tight ends and stop the run.
This would allow Kiko Alonso to continue his progress from a season ago, while Timmons locks down the strong-side linebacker spot. This would essentially be the ideal scenario that will let Coach Burke have some continuity from a season ago.
Beyond Hewitt is likely Deon Lacey, the speedy linebacker that can lock down the WILL spot if given the chance. Lacey was on the roster bubble but following the Misi and McMillan news, he will likely make the roster.
It is typical to stress over the loss of McMillan, but there is no benefit in doing so. Dolphins fans must put full faith in whoever steps up to start at linebacker for the team.
There is still enough time for the team to sign a veteran linebacker and there is no shortage of options. But Adam Gase and company will likely let things play out over the next few practices and see what their options are (as he’s been known to do).
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