AC in the AM: So Much Depends On Overcoming Injuries

Posted Aug 14, 2017

As the final few days of training camp unfold, as the defense tries to move on without its highly-regarded rookie linebacker, as the veterans prepare to get more action Thursday against Baltimore, we offer up this large dose of Monday morning perspective:

• The loss of No. 2 pick Raekwon McMillan to a season-ending knee injury clearly hurts. He had been elevated to first team middle linebacker, even calling signals. He was touted to be an important piece in an improved rushing defense. But now McMillan must begin a long rehab following ACL surgery and, without him, the defense must somehow adjust.

McMillan figured to be the odd linebacker out in nickel situations so his playing time would have been somewhat limited to the base defense. Mike Hull, now in his third training camp, is taking his place with the first team, but that remains a fluid situation. More on Hull and his impressive journey in my Tuesday morning column.

• One more thought about McMillan. He posted a heartfelt message on Instagram on Friday. He is a tough young man, very determined, highly cerebral. He’ll bounce back from this, return next season and continue what still should be a very promising career. His love of football is one of the reasons this team selected him in the second round. It is that love, I believe, that will help carry him through these difficult times.

• News that Ryan Tannehill has decided to undergo season-ending ACL surgery should not come as a major surprise. He had done his research, explored all of his options. It became clear that surgery made the most sense and offered the clearest path to a full return in 2018. Tannehill didn’t want this to potentially linger into another season. Get it fixed and move on. He’ll still only be 30 next season and there are examples all over the NFL landscape of quarterbacks coming back strong, playing many more quality seasons, after this type of surgery. That’s got to be Tannehill’s mindset.

• Sometimes one word tells you everything you need to know. When asked on Saturday if he expected Tannehill to be back for the 2018 season, Coach Adam Gase responded: “Absolutely.”

• Sneak preview? Jay Cutler threw a gorgeous touchdown pass to DeVante Parker toward the end of Saturday’s practice, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd. You see examples like that in every practice of Cutler developing a comfort zone with his receivers.

• But it’s going to take time with Cutler. He understands this, expected this. Each day brings a little bit of progress. “The longer you do it, the easier it is,” Cutler said Sunday. “It feels like I’ve been here two weeks and I don’t think I’ve been here a week yet. I don’t know if it’s going fast or slow, but it’s going.” Cutler says he’s excited to get some reps in a preseason game, but Coach Adam Gase has yet to decide whether that will come Thursday night against Baltimore.

• Speaking of this Thursday night, I expect to see the veterans play significantly more than they did in the preseason opener, perhaps as much as a full quarter. As much as you want to protect your starters during the preseason, it’s also important to develop the four C’s: continuity, consistency, communication and confidence. That, to a large extent, is what the second and third preseason games are all about.

• A promising sight on Sunday when running back Jay Ajayi took part in some 11-on-11 drills. He has yet to be fully cleared from concussion protocol, but you can tell he’s getting close and that’s so important for this offense.

• Perhaps overlooked last Thursday night was the play, though brief, of veteran defensive end William Hayes. It is already clear that he is going to be a major factor on this defense, certainly as a run defender. What I saw in Hayes against the Falcons was quickness and desire, two very important traits.

• What else did we learn against the Falcons? That the Dolphins are loaded with young wide receivers, and this area was pretty deep to begin with. Behind what appears to be the top four of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Leonte Carroo are some intriguing prospects: Jakeem Grant, Francis Owusu, Damore’ea Stringfellow – he of the 99-yard catch and run – and Drew Morgan among others have had solid camps. The last three are undrafted rookies. What do the Dolphins do with so many quality young receivers? They’ve got a few more weeks to try to figure that out. 

• Great to see center Mike Pouncey taking part in some team drills in Saturday’s practice. Gase has yet to decide whether Pouncey will play in a preseason game, but says confidently of Pouncey, “he’s been ready since the first day.” As for Pouncey, returning to 11-on-11 drills was an obstacle he needed to clear. “I feel so much better. It’s all the way healed back up,” he said. The Dolphins wisely gave Pouncey the day off on Sunday.

• You probably haven’t read much about veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell this summer, but he’s having a strong training camp and looks much more comfortable than he did a year ago at this time. Had a nice Pick 6 in Saturday’s practice.

• And finally, Gase on veteran defensive end Andre Branch: “He’s our sparkplug. He makes sure there is never a dull moment.” He’s also one of the reasons that defensive end may just be the strength of this team.

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by our columnists and bloggers represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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