Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is back at practice for the Dolphins, ready to pick up where he left off last summer after making a great first impression.
McMillan, you may recall, had worked his way to the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker before his rookie season ended on his first play of the preseason after he sustained a torn ACL while covering a punt.
Now, McMillan is back to establish himself as a leader on defense and continue to work on his grasp of the system. The one thing he's not doing is thinking about his knee, which he says has no limitations.
"That's the worst thing you can is think about it," McMillan said Thursday after the third and final day of OTAs this week. "Kind of got some advice from Frank Gore and (Ryan) Tannehill, who went through it."
Indeed, both the veteran running back and the quarterback have gone through ACL injuries, Gore while in college and Tannehill just this past season.
In fact, Tannehill played a big role in McMillan's rehabilitation because the two of them had surgery the same day, returned to the facility on the same day, and began their rehab the same day.
McMillan joked that the two of them had a friendly competition going to see who could first clear a milestone, such as walk without crutches or walk underwater.
"Some days I wasn't feeling too good, but he always kept me positive and kept my mind right," McMillan said.
McMillan said dealing with the injury was difficult initially, but then he realized he had two options: try to make the most of his rookie season by rehabbing and progress mentally, or be bummed out and waste a full year.
The breakthrough came early after the end of the 2017 season.
"When I finally started doing regular stuff, going to Top Golf and going swimming and shooting a little basketball, when I knew I could do that, I knew I was going to be OK," McMillan said.
For the Dolphins, having McMillan back on defense is akin to having an extra second-round pick — actually, getting an extra second-round pick with a year being around the team.
As of the end of the first week of the OTAs, the expectation is that McMillan will reclaim his spot as the starting middle linebacker.
This is how he sees his role: "I'm the Mike, I'm the middle linebacker, the guy in the middle, the quarterback of the defense. I'm trying to become a leader out there. There's nothing given to me. I'll try to work my way into a leadership spot."
Reshad's reaction: Reshad Jones' reaction to the Dolphins selecting fellow safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft was nothing but positive. "It's about time," Jone said Friday. "We haven't drafted a safety in a while. It was about time for us to get another defensive back in the room. I think it was helpful. It was a good move." Jones, who was drafted eight years ago, has a positive early impression of the latest first-round pick. "He's been making plays," Jones said. "He definitely can help us. I'm glad we got him, another DB in the room." Jones said Fitzpatrick hasn't yet sought him out to pick his brain, though he has passed along some veteran advice. "I've been helping him with little things," Jones said. "What advice I could give him is, just be yourself. Do everything you've done to get you to this point, just continue to be Minkah."
Future plans: Safety Reshad Jones said Thursday he still feels like he's 18 even though he turned 30 in the offseason and figures he still has plenty of good NFL seasons left. When the time does come for Jones to start thinking about retirement, one thing is on his mind: He wants it to happen as a member of the Dolphins. "I definitely would like to retire a Dolphin," Jones said. "I've been here nine years, my family is here. I don't want to go anywhere. I would love to finish as a Miami Dolphin." Jones is about to begin his ninth season with the Dolphins after being a fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft. He is the third-longest-tenured player on the team, following John Denney (2005) and Cameron Wake (2009). "I love Miami," Jones said. "I love the fans. I love everything about it."
Looking to press: Cornerback Xavien Howard played the best football of his young NFL career toward the end of the 2017 season, and he said Friday one thing he did differently was pressing and getting his hands on receivers near the line of scrimmage. It's a technique he wouldn't mind using even more often this season. "Oh yeah, I have no problem pressing," Howard said. "I did that in college; I pressed a lot. Just turning it up and taking it to the next level. … (The coaches said they wanted to put our hands on receivers and stuff like that. It's knowing what my strength is pressing, knowing what I do well." Howard ended the 2017 season with team-high totals of four interceptions and 13 passes defensed. He had his four picks and eight of his passes defensed in the back-to-back victories against Denver and New England in December. "I ended the season well," Howard said, "but just want to get better this year."
Together again: When the Dolphins claimed quarterback Bryce Petty off waivers from the New York Jets, he was reunited with his old college teammate Xavien Howard. The two of them played together at Baylor for two seasons, including 2014 when Petty was the starting quarterback and the school finished the season 11-2 and ranked seventh in the final AP poll. "He's a great guy," Howard said. "I had two years with him at Baylor. He can come out there and compete."