Oh yeah!!! This is the unit that has me excited, because we haven’t had good play at MLB in a while, and this year, Raekwon McMillan is back and ready to be the tackling machine we have missed. I’m not going to count T.J. McDonald, or Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Reshad Jones in this article, but we know they all will be rotating in on passing downs and basically playing nickel LB, whether they officially call it that or not. These 2 things, Raekwon being there to stop run plays, and the combination of the safeties and LB Jerome Baker in coverage make me feel much more confident about our defense going forward. The need for Kiko Alonso to be the guy in coverage is now over, and the Dolphins will be in better hands for it. We’ve seen enough of him unsuccessfully chasing players catching footballs and being a good 5 yards behind them.
We currently have 10 LB’s on the roster, but once we get down to the serious cuts, we’ll probably have only six remaining. Let’s look at what we have, and who I think sticks, and who I think doesn’t.
Kiko Alonso – LB 6’3 239 28YO
Alonso has been a steady performer the Dolphins. He played and started in 15 games in 2016, and all 16 games in 2017. Although he struggles in coverage, he’s been a good player for us. Last year Alonso finished with 115 total tackles (79 solo), along with 2 sacks and 2 FF’s. Kiko will be playing mostly on the weak side which I think is exactly where he belongs. In 2016, he had the huge INT and TD return for 60 yards. I think he’s a little under appreciated here, but he’s been a solid, dependable player.
Raekwon McMillan – LB 6’2 248 22YO
Raekwon was injured in the season opener covering the first punt of the year as he collided with teammate Deon Lacey. He tore his ACL, but he is now fully recovered and ready to take the reins of this defense as the defensive signal caller, the MLB. The big 250 LB ran a 4.6 40 at the combine, and he had a very nice career at Ohio St. I think McMillan will be the difference maker in this LB corps. Last year Chase Allen and Mike Hull filled in some, and while Allen flashed some, I don’t think he made the impact that McMillan will for us this season. He’s already shown he’s ready as even early in practices in OTA’s, McMillan was adjusting the defense and putting players in the appropriate position.
Stephone Anthony – LB 6’3 245 26YO
The SLB is less set in stone than the WLB and MLB spots are. At the moment, Stephone Anthony is manning the SLB spot, but he may face some competition from rookie Jerome Baker, and possibly even Chase Allen. The former 1st RD pick (#31) of the New Orleans Saints started out as a MLB, but the Saints coaches felt the strain of the mental aspects of the game lessened his play, so they tried to work him at OLB, but after a promising rookie season, his play fell off and then so did his playing time, which made him expendable for a 5th RD pick last season. He will be given every chance to win the job, but he’s going to have to show a little something, because the 5th we spent on acquiring pales when compared to the 3rd we spent on Jerome Baker. This may be the last chance for Anthony to be a starter.
Terrence Garvin – LB 6’3 242 27YO
Garvin is basically a ST’s standout. He can also provide depth, but Garvin’s meal ticket is his special teams prowess. Garvin has played for the 3 NFL teams, and at each stop, he’s been the ST’s ace. Garvin was signed in 2013 by the Pittsburgh Steelers as an UDFA. He played 3 seasons for the Steelers, and then was picked up by the Redskins in 2016. Last season he played for the Seattle Seahawks. Garvin has started only 4 games in his 5 year career.
Mike Hull – LB 6’0 235 27YO
Hull was signed as an UDFA here in MIA in 2015. Hull appeared in only 3 games as a rookie in 2015, but played in all 16 games in both ’16 and ’17, with 4 starts. Hull plays special teams, so he that’s where his value is, plus he can play MLB in a pinch, but just don’t expect a lot. He will continue to be a special teams player and a backup if he makes the cut.
Jerome Baker – LB 6’1 229 21YO
Baker was our 3rd RD pick (#73) in the 2018 NFL Draft. Baker now gives us 2 LB’s drafted from Ohio State (Raekwon McMillan). His strengths are Kiko Alonso’s weakness, but Kiko’s strength is Jerome Baker’s weakness. Kiko is tough playing the run, while Baker struggles to beat and shed blocks in the run game, and gets wiped out too often. Baker’s strength is pass coverage, where he is a bit above average in that regard, and that’s Kiko’s weak point, he doesn’t cover well. A combo of these 2 players would be ideal, but Baker could eventually replace Kiko on the weak side, or he can also displace Stephone Anthony on the strong side. In order to do either of the two, Baker is going to have show more toughness beating blocks and making tough tackles, and continue to show development as a coverage LB. It’s likely Baker is more of a depth player and ST’s player his rookie year, but a strong showing in TC and preseason games could change that quickly. He also will likely get to play some nickel or dime LB if he proves competent in the preseason
Chase Allen – LB 6’3 250 25YO
Allen was signed in 2017 as an UDFA. Allen appeared in all 16 games, and was forced to start 4 games due to injuries (McMillan) and cuts (Maualuga). Allen definitely flashed some ability finishing with 33 total tackles (24 solo) along with a FF. He will continue to be a ST’s player, and can provide adequate depth at any of the LB positions.
Quentin Poling – LB 6’1 235 24YO
Poling was Miami’s 7th RD pick in the 2018 NFL draft (#227). He is another athletic player, somewhat in the mold of Jerome Baker, but Poling played at Ohio, not Ohio State. He’s a decent cover LB, and likes to chase and tackle. At Ohio, Poling made 43.5 tackles behind the LOS, in addition to 18 sacks, and 7 INT’s. He will have to continue to make those type of plays in the preseason to make the cut. The best chance for Poling to make it would be if the Dolphins don’t see enough from Stephone Anthony, which is a possibility. Right now I’d give him an outside shot, but if Hull or Anthony or Allen are cut, that could give Poling the in.
Frank Ginda – LB 6’0 245 21YO
Frank Ginda was signed a week ago as an UDFA. he was signed right after LB Mike McCray unexpectedly decided to retire from the NFL. Ginda was a fine player at San Jose St. Last season, Ginda finished with 173 total tackles (94 solo) which led the NCAA in tackles. He shows good instincts, and always flows to the ball. He needs to work on shedding tackles, but Ginda is a player. He’s somewhat of a longshot, but if he can show the same type of play he had at San Jose St, he might be a surprise roster invitee.
So that’s the LB’s, and again, I’m pretty enthusiastic about this group. I can’t wait to see Raekwon manning the middle, and I’m encouraged that if Stephone Anthony doesn’t step up his game, the Dolphins have at least 2-3 guys that can replace him and give us something.