The Miami Dolphins front office went into the offseason with a goal to upgrade their linebacking core, and I must say they did a fine job of executing that plan. First they signed former Pittsburgh Steeler Lawrence Timmons to a 2 year deal.
The acquisition immediately upgrades their linebacking core. Timmons had an 8.8% run stop percentage and 28 run stops in 2016 compared to Alonso’s 6.6% run stop percentage and 26 run stops which was on 76 more run snaps. Timmons will be a better fit inside than Kiko. Timmons’ ability to process and leverage the ball are much better than Alonso. Timmons is the consistent linebacker that the Dolphins defense needs in their wide nine looks.
Jim Washburn, the co-creator of the wide nine was a Senior Defensive Consultant in Miami. He recently retired but the staff is expected to carry over his principles. The wide front is meant to deter outside runs and force the offense to cut back back into the teeth of the defense. Timmons will stabilize the middle of the defense versus all types of run concepts, zone, gap or man.
Kiko is a talented player but he missed far too many tackles in 2016 (15 missed tackles), the most in his career. In fact, the Dolphins defense as a unit, missed 10.2% of their tackles last year which was the 10th highest percentage in the NFL.
Alonso is fast to the ball but often took bad angles or failed to come under control at the point of contact. On this play you see him fire his gun so quickly that he has to flatten his angle as he approaches Lesean Mccoy. Mccoy senses it and cuts it back for some easy yardage.
Having Alonso back on the perimeter at his natural position will put him in better positions to be disruptive. He will be able to use the boundary and or defensive ends to his advantage. In wide nine sets, the plays will funnel right back to him, allowing him to get downhill to make plays in the backfield before they even begin. Having him at outside linebacker will prevent overthinking, ultimately maximizing his strengths.
With the Mike and Will linebacker spots likely filled, the Dolphins went into draft weekend looking to upgrade the Sam linebacker position. In the second round, they drafted Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Maybe not his natural fit, but value wise they drafted him right where he projected.
McMillan played Mike linebacker his entire career, but given his traits, I think selecting him was a smart move for the short and long term. He possesses traits in the short term that can upgrade the Sam position, but he can also be the successor at Mike down the road.
The Dolphins gave up 140.4 yards per game on the ground which was ranked 30th overall in 2016. In base packages, I believe McMillan can help slow offenses down. In his final season at Ohio State, according to Pro Football Focus he amassed 42 stops versus the run which was the 11th best in the country at inside linebacker. He is able to make a fair share of plays versus the run because of his ability to process plays quickly and leverage the ball, similar to Timmons.
On this play the Wolverines bring out 22 personnel and attempt to bully the Buckeyes with power. McMillan reads it perfectly, scrapes and helps close the running back’s first window.
The back bounces it and has to quickly get north/south where McMillan wraps up the running back. McMillan is always under control, with his body in position to make tackles
McMillan’s ability to leverage the ball is eerily similar to Timmon’s. He rarely loses leverage or sight of the ball and can make the tackle in the open field.
I have no worries about him playing as a two down outside linebacker because he has a good balance of measurables and skill. He possesses 33 inch arms, but he knows how to use that length.
He displays the ability to stack and shed at the point of attack. This is critical to the Dolphins wide 9 fronts. As a Sam linebacker, McMillan will often be matched up with tackles so he must be able to disengage and make a play.
On the following two plays, McMillan exhibits tremendous play speed and technique in traffic. He has his eyes over his hands, utilizes great hand punch and placement while still playing with his outside shoulder free. There should be no worries about his ability to play the run at the point of attack.
In 2016, the Dolphins gave up the third most big plays versus the run with 64. They allowed the 4.87 yards per attempt up the middle which was the 3rd worst in the NFL. A lot of this had to do with their linebackers inability to get downhill and bring runners down.
Acquiring Timmons should help improve in that area, but also allow the Fins to improve versus the outside run. Miami surrendered the most yards per attempt outside the right end, giving up 8.45 yards per attempt and the 5th most yards per attempt at 6.27 yards per attempt outside the left end.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) July 4, 2017
Kicking Alonso back outside will allow him to play fast and be his disruptive self. But the Fins run defense could massively improve if their second round draft pick Raekwon McMillan can play outside in the short term.
His skills fit perfectly with what Miami needs from their Sam linebacker. First of all is availability, he played in 39 games in three years at Ohio State. Injuries at the linebacker position have been the number one issue over the last few years in Miami. He has displayed the ability to stay healthy or at least play while injured. Secondly, he possesesses the skills needed to contribute at the very least as a two down linebacker. He is able process all types of runs quickly, stack and shed at the point of attack and properly leverage the ball on perimeter runs and bring down the back.
Lastly, in the long run he has the leadership skills and talent to supplant Timmons as the Mike linebacker down the road.
Miami hit a home run with their selection of McMillan. It is a safe pick and one that has a chance to play major dividends in the short and long term.