The New England Patriots made some major investments along their defensive front seven this offseason, but the signing of Raekwon McMillan flew under the radar a bit compared to some other high-profile additions. Based on his performance so far in training camp it probably shouldn’t have.
McMillan saw prominent action over his first four camp practices as a Patriot, playing an active role at the inside linebacker position. Along the way, he appears to have made a prominent fan: Bill Belichick.
Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, the Patriots’ head coach praised McMillan for his work so far.
“Raekwon’s done a real good job,” Belichick said.
McMillan first arrived in the NFL as a second-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2017. After sitting out virtually all of his rookie season due to a torn ACL, he started 16 games for the Dolphins as a sophomore.
However, McMillan failed to reach those levels of play again: he received limited playing time the following season after Miami changed head coaches, and in August 2020 was eventually traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. McMillan played 16 games for his new team last season but was mostly used on special teams.
Earlier this year, the Patriots added him via a one-year free agency contract with a maximum value of $1.15 million. His deal illustrates McMillan’s standing on the roster: the 25-year-old will have to earn his spot on the team this summer.
At this stage in training camp he very much appears to be on his way to doing just that, at least if Belichick is to be believed.
“I’ve been very impressed with his intelligence, his work ethic. He’s locked in every day. He works extremely hard both on and off the field,” he said.
“Does a great of trying to get it just the way that it’s supposed to be, the way he’s been taught. He takes all that very seriously and handles a lot of responsibilities in there, both with the front, the coverage, and a lot of the time the linebacker adjustments by formation and so forth.”
McMillan is one of several players trying to carve out a spot on the roster at the off-the-ball linebacker position. While Dont’a Hightower is safe as the top option, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall and Harvey Langi will also compete for practice reps. The same goes for versatile youngsters Josh Uche, Chase Winovich and Anfernee Jennings.
How the competition unfolds remains to be seen; New England has not even put on full pads as of Monday. However, McMillan appears to have built a solid foundation to work with.