The Dolphins are feeling the injury bug’s bite.
It was confirmed late Friday that Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill will indeed have season-ending knee surgery to repair the torn ligaments in his left knee as will rookie inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who injured his knee in the opening minutes of the Dolphins’ preseason opener against Atlanta this past Thursday.
Both players will be placed on injured reserve.
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase spoke about the road ahead for both players.
“[Ryan] has got a good plan kind of mapped out. He has done a good job of communicating with our training staff, our doctors. They’re all on the same page. I’m going to know when he’s not going to be here,” Gase said about Tannehill.
”There will be some weeks where he’s going to be around a lot, and he’ll be able to help the coaching staff and help the players.”
Gase wasn’t as sure about McMillan.
“We’re a little early to tell right now the exact timetable of everything,” Gase told reporters.
Ticking Time Bomb
The 29-year-old former No. 8 overall selection in the 2012 draft opted not to have surgery on the knee after he sustained the injury during Miami’s week 14 game against the Arizona Cardinals. He missed the final four games of the season – three regular season and the Wildcard playoffs lost to Pittsburgh – and chose to use non-invasive methods of treatment for the knee.
Even though Tannehill participated in all the Dolphins’ offseason programs, things took huge a turn for the worse on August 3rd when Tannehill’s knee appeared to “buckle” while he scrambled out of the pocket during a team drill in training camp.
The non-contact injury signaled that Tannehill’s knee still wasn’t structurally sound since he never surgically repaired the “sprained” – or partially torn – ligaments from the initial injury nearly eight months prior.
Many felt that Miami already had an inclination of Tannehill’s long-term status when it swiftly moved in wooing freshly retired quarterback Jay Cutler back to the field and signing the former Bears quarterback to a 1-year, $10 million deal.
Cutler, who did not play in the Dolphins 23-20 win over Atlanta, has familiarity with head coach Adam Gase and his system from their time (the 2015 season) spent together in Chicago – when Gase was the Bears’ offensive coordinator and Cutler had one of his better statistical seasons.
McMillan’s situation is far worse – not speaking medically, but because his injury occurred before he could even take his first defensive snap.
Playing special teams – like most rookies will – as a part of the punt coverage team, McMillan ran down the field Thursday and was pushed into a pile during the punt return and appeared to roll awkwardly.
Trainers tended to the 6-foot-2, 245-pound second round pick on the field briefly before he walked to the sideline under his own power. He was examined further on the sideline before being taken to the locker room.
Coach Gase said he wanted to give McMillan some reps on special teams because he was probably going to play on that unit during the season.
“We were talking about how he was going to have to possibly be on that team. We had to give him some reps, especially in the game,” Gase said after Thursday’s game. ”It’s tough to see a young player go down, not knowing what happened.”
The Ohio State alum never even lined up with Miami’s defense.
He entered the game listed as the team’s starting middle linebacker in between veterans Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons and was on the road to manning that spot into the regular season.
Coaches had acknowledged that McMillan was having a productive training camp and had already shown himself to be a key cog in the Dolphins’ defense for the present and the future.
Linebacker Musical Chairs
Miami’s options at linebacker moving forward aren’t hideous.
Timmons might be the least objectionable option. The 11-year vet played inside linebacker for the Steelers for nearly a decade. Even though the team has played him on outside since signing him, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be able to handle the inside duties – even at his age.
Moving Timmons inside would then create a hole on the outside, and team may feel more confident in leaving Timmons on the outside and moving former undrafted player Mike Hull up the depth chart to replace McMillan.
Hull, a 2014 first-team All-Big 10 performer at Penn State, was the No. 2 inside linebacker on Miami’s depth chart and he filled in during Thursday’s preseason game when McMillan went down. The Dolphins signed him after the 2015 draft and while he spent majority of that season bouncing back and forth on the team’s practice squad, he got called up to the 53-man roster and played against Philadelphia in Nov. 2015.
Hull spoke to the media after Saturday’s practice.
“You hate for something to happen like that to one of your teammates,” Hull said. “But I’m just going to take it one day at a time, try to improve, try to get better, and work on my skills.”
The free agency pool is shallow at linebacker.
33-year-old D’Qwell Jackson might be the best available. Jackson, who has 1,190 tackles, 19.5 sacks, nine interceptions and seven forced fumbles in his career, played the 2016-17 season for the Indianapolis Colts and served as their defensive captain before he was suspended the final four games of the season for performance-enhancing drugs.
For now, it would look as though the team is just going to roll with Hull.
“That’s going to be a constant discussion and I think it’s going to end up being what’s our best lineup and we have time before the first week of the season. So, could we move guys around? Absolutely. And we were lucky enough to have a guy that can do multiple positions and has done it before with Kiko [Alonso], who has played every spot,” Gase said after practice Saturday.
”So if we wanted to do that, we could. Right now, we like where we’re at. We like that group we’ve got going on and we’ll just see how it plays out. If we don’t like something, we’re going to make a change. We’re not just going to sit there with our hands behind our back and say this is what it is.”