When the New England Patriots passed on a linebacker early, the expectation was they coveted a name on Day 2. When New England passed on a linebacker completely, there were questions.
It's a new year in Foxboro and with it comes changes to the Patriots' defense. Dont'a Hightower remains a free agent. So does Jamie Collins. Kyle Van Noy is now in Los Angeles, leaving the Patriots' without a starting secondary linebacker behind Ja'Whaun Bentley.
Early on, look for Raekwon McMillan to fight for first-team reps. Bill Belichick is all about experience to begin the season.
Entering his sixth season, McMillan has starting reps under his belt with both the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders. The 6-2, 224-pounder also has been highly praised for his work against the run, though can be limited in his coverage especially in man-to-man coverage.
Much is unknown with McMillan in New England as he coming off of a torn ACL suffering in camp last August. Former Dolphins vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum gave the Ohio State high praise, calling him "a little bit of a throwback" in terms of defending the run.
"I would bet on his character and work ethic and love of game," Tannenbaum told ESPN last month. "He's really smart. You just hope he can stay healthy."
McMillan is likely one of two names vying for first-team reps early in training camp. Cameron McGrone was expected to be a high-end selection, but a torn ACL made him fall to the fifth round. Belichick elected essentially redshirt him last season to fully recover for 2022.
Coming out Michigan, McGrone was known for his ability to defend the run. While in Ann Arbor, he recorded 11 tackles for loss, including nine during the 2019 season. He also recorded three total sacks prior to declaring in 2021.
Bentley primarily has been known for his thumper mentality opposite Van Noy and Collins. Whichever linebacker takes the necessary steps forward in terms of coverage likely earns reps with the first-team unit early on. The current options outside of McMillan and McGrone include Mack Wilson, Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi.
McMillan's veteranship could earn him the starting nod out of camp. Time will tell if he maintains the position long-term.
Avoiding injuries at all cost should help in the process as well.