The Dolphins are still feeling effects of injuries so far in training camp, including losing rookie Raekwon McMillan for the season Thursday in their first preseason game. It’s now confirmed that the former Ohio State tackling machine is lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Well, after the Dolphins resumed practice on Saturday head coach Adam Gase was questioned about why a rookie they were counting on to see significant playing time at middle linebacker this season would be on punt coverage?
To his credit, Gase gave an insightful answer that speaks to the challenge every NFL team faces with roster sizes and having to field special teams units throughout games all year long.
Gase responded to the question about why McMiilan was risking injury on special teams, “Cause he was gonna play them in the season…..we only have 46 guys…. You’re a rookie and you have to experience these things. You have to do it.” Gase continued, “Cause, we throw him in a real game….and he’s never done it before, it’s not gonna be a good result…You feel bad for him, especially for a guy that’s never been injured before in his career.”
So, there’s the quandry. With young players, even guys you are counting on to play significantly either on offense or defense, you still will have to them on some or most of them one of your special teams units. You simply cannot field kickoff, kickoff return, punt coverage, punt return, etc. and not play first or second year guys.
And that brings back to McMillan being out there on punt team. There are obviously certain star Dolphins who you are going to protect. However, if you are on the active roster, you are very likely going take a physical risk and play one of the special teams units. He’s a linebacker, an instinctive tackler and suited to run down the field and make plays.
Further, Gase shouldn’t face an abundance of criticism for something he and all NFL coaches are forced to address, consider and then take risks with.
Remember, a few seasons ago (2012) when the Patriots lost the best tight end in the game, Rob Gronkowski, for the season, because he suffered a broken forearm while on extra point protection? Yes, the greatest coach in the game, Bill Belichick had him out there not only for that game, but basically throughout his career as a blocker on special teams.
And disaster struck.
From Pete Carroll in Seattle to Sean Payton in New Orleans, you take risks who you put out on special teams and they occasionally burn you.
It burned the Dolphins. Badly. McMillan is lost for the year.
But, that doesn’t mean Gase wasn’t trying to do the right thing with getting a player experience on something he was going to be asked to do come September 10th. It means get ready to use star young players on special teams out of roster size and necessity.