Miami Dolphins linebackers undersized, undermanned, but getting it done

Kiko Alonso and the Dolphins’ linebackers are resolute despite their disadvantages. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

NEW YORK—For nearly the entire four months linebacker Chase Allen has been in the NFL, he’s been getting “dog-cussed” by his boss at every turn.

The Dolphins took a flier on Allen after he went undrafted out of Southern Illinois, and defensive coordinator Matt Burke has made it his mission to nail him for every mistake with the intention of grooming him into a pro. Perhaps that’s part of why Allen survived the final roster cut ahead.

Neither Burke nor Allen envisioned him as an opening day starter, however, and that suddenly became necessary when 11-year veteran Lawrence Timmons disappeared shortly before last weekend’s game against the Chargers. Undismayed by the unexpected snag, Burke was exuberant about Allen’s opportunity and ran up to him screaming while he did his pre-game stretching.

“This is why I’ve been (getting on you) all year,” Burke yelled as he grabbed him by the jersey. “This is why you’re here.”

There were some other words that aren’t suitable for this platform, but suffice it to say Burke launched into a raucous pep talk for about two minutes.

At the end of the rant, Allen looked up to see if Burke was done.

“OK, Coach,” Allen replied calmly, then continued on with his stretches.

That’s fairly indicative of the collective personality in the Dolphins’ linebacker corps: unfazed by commotion, undaunted by disadvantageous situations.

Almost anyone outside their building would quickly size this group up as undermanned. They dressed four linebackers last week, asking Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull to play every snap, and won’t be in much better position for Sunday’s game at the Jets.

Alonso and Hull are in line to start again, with Allen likely next in Miami needs three on the field. After that, Justin March-Lillard and recent trade acquisition Stephone Anthony are available. March-Lillard played only on special teams last week, and Anthony might not know the playbook well enough to contribute.

Meanwhile, Timmons remains suspended and Rey Maualuga has yet to play. Miami also lost second-round pick Raekwon McMillan to a torn ACL in the preseason opener.

“We’re doing well so far and we’re taking everything in stride,” said Hull, who had a team-high 10 tackles against the Chargers. “You’ve just gotta find a way to get it done with the guys you have. That’s how it’s gonna be. It’s not ideal, but you find a way.”

They got through last week holding the Chargers to 44 rushing yards but struggling a bit in pass coverage. Despite the Jets being one of the worst teams in the league, they present a challenge with two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte and others. They put up 126 rushing yards in their loss to the Raiders a week ago.

Through all the tumult, Alonso has risen as a somewhat surprising leader. This is a guy who played on three teams in his first four years, then something clicked with the Dolphins last season and he became their unquestioned “alpha dog,” as Burke put it and signed a four-year $28.9 million extension last offseason.

“Kiko’s really grown into his role, obviously, knowing he’s going to be here long term and that he’s part of what we’re doing,” Burke said. “He takes those guys, and Kiko’s level of communication and direction has been awesome, so he’s really helped… They feed off of his energy, and he does a good job of getting everybody lined up. That’s a confident group.”

The belief is so strong in that part of the locker room that they enjoy hearing criticisms that they’re too small, not good enough and there aren’t enough of them—all of which might be valid.

Hull, Allen, March-Lillard had a combined six career starts before this season. Pittsburgh had younger players it liked better than Timmons, and New Orleans seemed eager to unload Anthony. Neither Alonso nor Hull, the top two at the position for now, are much bigger than Dolphins safety Reshad Jones.

But their best trait is that none of it bothers them.

“People can think that stuff, but we know what we can do,” Allen said. “We just go out there on Sundays and prove people wrong.”

[Polling the locker room: Dolphins players want Lawrence Timmons back]

[Friday’s post-practice report on the Dolphins]

[Miami Dolphins rookies tell the stories of their NFL debuts]

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Miami Dolphins LB Justin March-Lillard more than an afterthought

Justin March-Lillard can still be a factor for the Dolphins at linebacker–a position where they badly need help. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—It’s been a bizarre start to the season for the Miami Dolphins, but it’s likely no one on the team has experienced more of a whirlwind few weeks than linebacker Justin March-Lillard.

He was cruising through the offseason with the Chiefs thinking he was playing some of his best football with a strong candidacy for a starting job before they waived him at the roster cut deadline. Within 24 hours, the Dolphins claimed him and launched him into a scramble.

March-Lillard immediately got down to Miami, while his wife and their infant son drove home to Ohio to be with her parents. That happens quite a bit in football—T.J. Yates went through something similar when Miami signed him late last season, and Jay Cutler was plucked from his family in Nashville more recently—but that doesn’t make it easy.

“That’s the rough part of the business, but I feel like there’s a lot of guys that have to go through that,” said March-Lillard, 24. “It’s just one of those things you have to do. We’ve always known that was something we might have to do, so mentally we’re prepared regardless of what happens.

“My agent said it was a great organization and it’d be a good fit. Nick Williams, who was here, reached out to me and said it was a good organization. He’s always had high praise for this organization. When he found out I was coming here he said, ‘You’ll love it.’ It’s been a great transition so far.”

He initially thought his family might stay in Ohio, but now he plans to move them down to South Florida early next month.

His first practice with the Dolphins was two days before the NFL postponed their season opener in advance of Hurricane Irma, prompting the team to release its players to evacuate. Then they reconvened in Oxnard, Calif., to begin a three-week run that has them playing in Los Angeles, New York and London.

Through all the choppiness of the schedule, March-Lillard’s been trying to grasp a completely new defense and set of terminology under coordinator Matt Burke. The sooner he masters that the better, considering Miami had just four linebackers dressed for the Chargers game last weekend.

Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull were on the field every play of that game, a 19-17 win. Chase Allen got 24 percent of the snaps, and March-Lillard was exclusively on special teams.

The Dolphins won’t have much more depth Sunday when they face the Jets. Rey Maualuga remains unfit to play, and Lawrence Timmons is on indefinite suspension. The only change is that they traded for Stephone Anthony, but it’s a big ask for him to be ready to contribute five days later.

March-Lillard, meanwhile, believes he has a fairly good handle on the defense at this point and could get an opportunity to prove it.

He’s been resilient throughout his three-year career, starting with making the Chiefs’ roster as an undrafted rookie out of Akron in 2015. Whatever ground he gained that summer was forfeited when he tore his meniscus in a preseason game.

Nonetheless, he reemerged as a starter for Kansas City in 2016. That looked like his breakthrough until he broke his hand in the fifth game. He had 22 tackles and two pass break-ups in those starts.

March-Lillard was undeterred by the injury, though, and powered through an offseason training regimen that helped him drop from 245 to 228 pounds (he’s 6 feet tall) and set him up to play what he considered his best football when he arrived for Organized Team Activities, minicamp and training camp.

Now that he’s with the Dolphins, he sees his momentum continuing—and they badly need that to be true

“I still feel like I’m the best athlete that I’ve been in a long, long time,” he said.

[Polling the locker room: Dolphins players want Lawrence Timmons back]

[Miami Dolphins’ Thursday practice report]

[Kenny Stills tells Adam Gase to speed it up]

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Gase gives no details on Lawrence Timmons, chooses to talk about those who played

DAVIE – It’s still a mystery what happened with Lawrence Timmons, the Miami Dolphins linebacker who without warning left the team before Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, and for the moment coach Adam Gase is comfortable to leave it that way.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida on June 8, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Asked during a Monday afternoon media session if he has any update on Timmons’ status, Gase said, “No, not currently…I haven’t gotten through Step One yet. I got in a little late last night so I’m kind of dealing with the guys that played.”

Not much to draw from there, except that Gase is annoyed to be dealing with this right now, and unprepared to answer questions about whether Timmons will be with the Dolphins when they head to New Jersey for Sunday’s game with the New York Jets.

As basic as it gets was the question of whether Timmons was in the building Monday at the Dolphins training facility. “No idea,” Gase said, clearly ready to move on to other topics.

It was all a variation on Gase’s theme from Sunday night, when postgame questions on Timmons following Miami’s 19-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers prompted the coach to say “I need to figure some things out before I talk about this.”

There are clues from other sources. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Timmons was scheduled to meet with doctors Monday to figure out what is wrong and that the 10-year veteran wants to return to playing immediately. TMZ reported that the Dolphins filed a missing report when Timmons wasn’t present for bedcheck at the team hotel in Southern California on Saturday night, and that police found him on Sunday morning at Los Angeles International Airport in the boarding area for a flight to Pennsylvania.

“A private matter” is how Timmons’ agent Drew Rosenhaus termed it on a Sunday night television appearance in Miami. It seems everything else will have to wait, unless Gase decides that explanations are unnecessary.

The Dolphins’ second-year coach does not hesitate to send messages to his team about living up to expectations. Last October, for instance, Gase cut two offensive linemen, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas, who had started the previous week’s game.

Gase said Monday that his rules are simple – “Be on time and play hard.”

And when those rules are violated, what is his tolerance level?

“What do you think?” Gase said. “We’ve got two rules. It’s not hard.”

Of course, few situations of this nature are as simple as they seem. If Timmons’ issue turns out to be medical or psychological in some nature, the Dolphins may be prohibited from commenting.

Either way, the Dolphins players who were interviewed Monday prior to Gase’s media session expressed a desire to have Timmons back as soon as possible. Not just because Miami is dangerously thin at linebacker now, but because the former Florida State star made a lot of friends in the locker room since signing a two-year, $12 million contract in March.

“We don’t turn our back on anybody, regardless of the situation,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. “Obviously we don’t know the full extent of everything but he’s one of us. He’s one of our brothers. We love him and we hope that he gets through whatever he is going through and get back to playing football with this football team.’

Because Timmons’ absence popped up so late in the week, the Dolphins had just four linebackers dressed for the Chargers game. Chase Allen, an undrafted rookie, started the game alongside Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull. Justin March-Lillard also was listed at linebacker but he played mostly special teams against the Chargers.

Alonso and Hull played every snap on defense, 58 each. Allen played less because Miami was in nickel defense so much against Philip Rivers’ passing attack, but the rookie from Southern Illinois helped make the tackle on the first play of the game, a rush for no gain by Melvin Gordon.

Rey Maualuga was out for the Chargers game with a hamstring injury and second-round draft pick Raekwon McMillan, another linebacker counted on to play a lot this season, is out for the year with a knee injury.

“Those guys did a pretty good job,” Gase said of the linebackers who played Sunday. “They did what they were asked to do and they made a lot of tackles between the three of them. We’ll kind of figure that out over the next three days, what we’re going to do and kind of how we want to play. If we have to make some adjustments as to what we want to do personnel-wise, we will.

“That’s what this game is all about. You kind of figure out who you’ve got on your roster and make adjustments.”

 

Mike Pouncey says Dolphins won’t turn their backs on Lawrence Timmons

Lawrence Timmons has made a lot of friends in the Miami Dolphins locker room in his short time with the team. If there is a problem in his returning to the lineup following a bizarre disappearance prior to Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, it doesn’t sound like it will come from teammates.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) on the sidelines at Hard Rock Stadium on Aug. 17, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“I’m sure it’s just a bump in the road for him,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said during an early-afternoon media availability on Monday. “I’m sure he wants to be back with the football team and we’ll see how it goes.

“Caught everybody off guard. There weren’t any signs at all…He’s been a great teammate. He’s a great football player and a guy that practices hard all the time. He’s a leader on our football team and you just hate seeing that he’s going through something.”

Timmons was not present for bed check on Saturday night at the Dolphins’ Southern California hotel. TMZ reported that the Dolphins put out a missing-persons report on him and that Timmons was found later at Los Angeles International Airport preparing to board a plan for Pennsylvania.

Coach Adam Gase made the veteran linebacker inactive for Sunday’s 19-17 win over the Chargers, leaving the Dolphins with four linebackers dressed and ready to play. One of those, Chase Allen, is an undrafted rookie who started in Timmons’ place.

Pouncey and some other Dolphins were asked about Timmons without all the details in hand and before Gase addressed the media at 3 p.m. Just the same, there was no hesitation about welcoming Timmons back.

“Of course,” Pouncey. “Heck, yeah, man. We don’t turn our back on anybody, regardless of the situation. Obviously we don’t know the full extent of everything but he’s one of us. He’s one of our brothers. We love him and we hope that he gets through whatever he is going through and get back to playing football with this football team.’

Linebackers Mike Hull and Kiko Alonso played every snap on defense Sunday because Miami was so thin at that position.

“It definitely was not ideal,” Hull said. “We kind of threw some stuff together on Saturday night and Sunday but, hey, it worked out and everybody stepped up when they had to and it worked out.

“It was awesome. It was a great opportunity to be able to play every snap. Obviously not what I was expecting but at the same time we all pulled together and we made it work. Every time you’re out there playing defense and playing the whole game, you forget how fun it is to play that much linebacker, so it was good to get out there again like back at Penn State and just run around out there and make plays.”

As for Timmons, Hull said he is glad to know that his teammate is safe and will let the team take care of everything else.

“Lawrence has been a great teammate,” Hull said. “He’s done everything that they’ve asked of him. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know enough of the situation right now, but he’s been great to work with. Whenever it was time to turn it on, he was turning it on in practice and in games. You saw what he did in the third preseason game. He went out there and killed it.

“You never know what’s going on with people’s personal lives outside of football. He’s a good guy overall. Everything he’s done in the building has been great. Once we found out he was all right it was a relief for everyone.”

Allen, who played his college ball at Southern Illinois, said “Lawrence has been awesome. He came up and introduced himself to me the first day here and just acted like a normal guy. He’s there for us so, yeah, Lawrence is a great dude.”

Allen was credited with three tackles on defense and one on special teams against the Chargers. According to data released the NFL, he was in on 14 defensive plays, which represents 24 percent of the snaps. Nickle cornerback Bobby McCain played 76 percent of the snaps but he said that was not because of Miami’s problems at linebacker.

“No, no, that was the plan originally,” McCain said. “That’s just how the game was.”

Timmons played his first 10 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is a former first-round draft pick from Florida State. The Dolphins signed him in March on a two-year, $12 million contract.

Miami Dolphins’ roster set, now time for depth chart decisions

The Dolphins are down to 53. Now they need a depth chart. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Dolphins just completed what is almost certainly the biggest roster cut in franchise history, going from 89 to 53, and they’re not done yet.

The rest of the weekend will be a scramble for them as they try to cement the roster before Monday’s practice, which marks the beginning of their preparation for the upcoming season opener against the Buccaneers. Miami contributed to a deluge of more than 1,000 free agents Saturday and will scour the market for anyone it deems to be an upgrade over players it decided to keep.

“Most of our guys have been going for quite a while now,” coach Adam Gase said after the preseason finale. “It’s a long process and a lot of work. We’ll see how it goes down and maybe see if there’s anybody we’re going to switch out, or if we’re good with the guys we’ve got.”

There are no major surprises among the 53 players the Dolphins penciled into their roster Saturday. The same core they’ve been planning on for the Tampa Bay game is still intact, leaving depth chart placement as the next task.

Left guard is the only spot on offense yet to be determined, and that decision comes down to Anthony Steen versus Jesse Davis. Steen was with the team all last season, playing 15 games (seven starts) at center, and Davis has been fairly even with him over the past few weeks. Miami started Steen at left guard when Mike Pouncey played in the third preseason game, then went with Davis in the final one.

Davis is the team’s feel-good story of the weekend after losing out at the end of the last two summers with Seattle and the Jets. He was headed toward repairing farm equipment before saving his NFL career over the past several months with the Dolphins.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” he said a couple weeks ago. “I just wake up every day and try to do what I can do to help move the team forward. I don’t think of it as, ‘Oh yes. It’s awesome.’ It’s a great opportunity. I hope I can hold onto it and really help this team out.”

Defensively, the Dolphins must pick a starter at linebacker, defensive tackle and cornerback.

Defensive tackle, meaning the man who will line up next to Ndamukong Suh, has been one of the most contested jobs on the team. Fifth-round pick Davon Godchaux appeared to have it locked down until about a week ago, when incumbent Jordan Phillips made a run. Phillips’ three years with Miami have been marked by inconsistency, but the staff isn’t ready to bail on him yet.

At linebacker, the plan was to go with Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons, plus second rounder Raekwon McMillan when a third was necessary. When McMillan tore his ACL in the preseason opener, Mike Hull stepped into that spot. The Dolphins later added veteran Rey Maualuga, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be physically ready for the Tampa Bay game.

Cornerback was thought to be settled until Byron Maxwell had a frustrating week in Philadelphia and free agent signee Alterraun Verner emerged as a threat to overtake him. It will likely be Maxwell and Xavien Howard on opening day.

Among returning players, the Dolphins cut offensive tackle Sam Young, linebacker Neville Hewitt and defensive end Nick Williams.

Miami decided to stick with two quarterbacks, Jay Cutler and Matt Moore, by cutting backups David Fales and Brandon Doughty. Gase is also content to move forward with a five-man receiver group, keeping his three starters plus Jakeem Grant and Leonte Carroo.

At running back, the Dolphins added Senorise Perry to the mix behind Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. That choice came down to Perry or Storm Johnson, and it’s a meaningful addition given that Williams is dealing with an unspecified injury.

All of the team’s 2017 draft picks made the roster. Seventh-round pick Isaiah Ford is on Injured Reserve for the year with a knee injury. Five undrafted rookies made the team, including No. 1 punter Matt Haack replacing Matt Darr.

Many of the players Miami cut today are candidates for the 10-man practice squad, which must will be filled by 1 p.m. Sunday. Promising linebacker Deon Lacey was told the team wants him on its practice squad if no one picks him up, a source said, and Doughty is another logical choice for that after spending all last season on the squad.

[Jakeem Grant proves he’s a real threat in the Dolphins’ offense]

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The Daily Dolphin Live: Join the Conversation

Join our reporters for a special evening as they talk NFL with Dolphins Pro Bowl Guard Jermon Bushrod, two-time Super Bowl champion Bob Kuechenberg and former Dolphins Pro Bowl linebacker Kim Bokamper on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Bokamper’s Fort Lauderdale. The event is free to the first 100 people and will include raffles, light bites and drinks.


Miami Dolphins: Emerging leader Kiko Alonso helps lift Raekwon McMillan

Kiko Alonso is stepping into his role as a veteran leader. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—Imagine being 20 years old and closing in on a lifelong dream of starting in the NFL. That’s where Dolphins rookie Raekwon McMillan was before tearing his ACL on his first play in last week’s game against Atlanta.

It’s a brutal game and a brutal lesson. McMillan was crushed by the injury, which will keep him out all season and require a difficult recovery, so veteran linebacker Kiko Alonso reached out to encourage him.

Beyond his role as one of the most established players in the locker room, Alonso was the perfect guy to console McMillan. He lost his second season to a torn ACL, suffering one while working out in the offseason, and suffered a partial tear in 2015.

“Obviously I’ve had two of them, so I just told him, ‘Man, keep your head up. You’re facing some adversity, but you’ve gotta just grind through it and you’ll be back better than ever,’” Alonso said. “Anybody that goes through an injury like that is always gonna be a little down. It’s tough. It challenges you mentally and physically. But he’ll be fine.”

McMillan, the team’s second-round pick this year, was set to join Alonso and Lawrence Timmons as the starting linebackers. He was expected to play middle, which would be an extraordinary responsibility for someone so young, and was doing well there during training camp.

Without him, the Dolphins seem to be moving forward with second-year linebacker Mike Hull in his place.

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Young Miami Dolphins defenders quickly earning Ndamukong Suh’s respect

Dolphins defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (56) fights off blockers during pre-season game at Hard Rock Stadium. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Raekwon McMillan is out but the season still is on. So when Ndamukong Suh looks around the meeting room, he looks for players who can help the Dolphins’ defense be far better than it was last year.

And a few young players are earning his respect.

Start with defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, the fifth-round pick out of LSU who has had a strong camp.

[RELATED: What Adam Gase said after Sunday’s practice]

“We’ve been in constant communication,” Suh said. “He’s just a willing learner, which is what I love most about him.” Suh said whenever Godchaux is taught something, “He just soaks it up.”

Godchaux appears to have zipped past third-year enigma Jordan Phillips, who has worked with Suh the past two offseasons.

“He’s a kid who’s very aggressive, gets off the ball,” Suh said of Godchaux. “He’s what our defense is primarily is built around, getting off the ball, being attack-style. I think he started to do a good job of that.”

First-round pick Charles Harris, a defensive end, also has been a focal point of camp, drawing positive reviews for his burst off the ball.

“The special thing about this league is being able to finish,” Suh said. “You see the great pass rushers, those guys have that instantaneous step to get to the quarterback and get him back. It’s not about getting close to him and getting him out of the pocket. It’s about getting him down and I think Charles has that. I think over time it’ll become easier and faster.”

Godchaux and Harris are rookies. Linebacker Mike Hull isn’t. He’s entering his third season but potentially his first in a starting role with McMillan having injured his knee.

And Suh is bullish on Hull.

“Mike Hull is a great talent, obviously somebody who’s underrated but in my opinion plays a very, very high level, knows what he needs to get done, is going to play a hundred miles an hour, if not more,” Suh said. “Somebody that I respect and I expect a lot out of him coming into this year, especially after what he did last year.”

[Dolphins call on ‘always-ready’ Mike Hull after McMillan goes down]

[Defense dominates offense with four interceptions during practice]

[Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says team was “lucky” to get Jay Cutler]

[Five takeaways from Dolphins-Falcons]

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Once again, Miami Dolphins call upon ‘always-ready’ LB Mike Hull in a pinch

Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull (45) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) at Hard Rock Stadium in 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — His name wasn’t called during the draft. It isn’t found on the top line of the depth chart and he might not get a front-row seat in the linebackers’ meeting room.

But when crisis develops, the Dolphins find a way to come back to Mike Hull.

More than ever, this is one of those times.

[RELATED: What Adam Gase said after Saturday’s practice]

With second-round pick Raekwon McMillan out for the season, the Dolphins are turning once again to Hull as first in line to fill that linebacker slot alongside veterans Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons.

Suddenly, part of the burden to improve the league’s 30th-ranked run defense of last year falls upon a player who has started just one of his 20 career NFL games — but you’d never know that listening to coach Adam Gase.

“He’s always looking for that shot to jump in the starting lineup and somebody’s above him and then he’s got to fill in,” Gase said Saturday. “Last year when we had guys go down and he had to fill in, he did a great job. He’s always ready to go.”

Whatever Hull, 26, lacks in quickness and size (6-feet, 232) he makes up for in preparation, Gase said.

“He makes sure he knows exactly what he’s supposed to do,” Gase said. “He knows everybody else’s job as well.”

Saturday, it became Hull’s job to rotate in with the starters, calling it “a great opportunity” following a summer of working out with linebackers Sean Lee of Dallas and Paul Posluszny of Jacksonville. Between that and times he was called upon to fill in last year, Hull figures he’s ready for the responsibility.

“I’m quick in the box, good in the box,” he said. “I feel like I have a good nose for the football against the run.”

If Hull can just make an impact in that department, it would ease some of the sting of losing McMillan to a knee injury. The Dolphins allowed a club-record 2,247 rushing yards last season.

“That’s something we’ve got to address,” he said.

Although not nearly as well-known as Alonso, Hull had his moments last year. Against the 49ers he made four special teams tackles. In his start against the Cardinals, he recorded eight tackles, an interception and a pass defensed.

Among the significant defensive changes from last season are the arrival of Timmons via free agency and the change to coordinator Matt Burke after Vance Joseph became Denver’s head coach. Interestingly, Hull said players have been picking Timmons’ brain, comparing Miami’s scheme to what he played in Pittsburgh.

“Everyone’s in the meeting room every day bouncing ideas off of one another and seeing how he might have played things differently in Pittsburgh versus how he’s playing it now, and it’s good to have that kind of veteran guy in the room,” Hull said.

[Defense dominates offense with four interceptions during practice]

[Dolphins lose starting linebacker Raekwon McMillan in preseason opener]

[Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says team was “lucky” to get Jay Cutler]

[Five takeaways from Dolphins-Falcons]

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Could the Dolphins start rookie Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker?

Raekwon McMillan is taking on a hefty workload for the Dolphins. (Miami Herald photo)

DAVIE—The Dolphins drafted Raekwon McMillan in the second round with the thought of him competing for starting job, and he’s getting his chance.

McMillan, a 20-year-old, got first-string reps at this morning’s training camp practice and spent some time at middle linebacker flanked by Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. Each of those veterans is an accomplished middle linebacker in his own right, so taking that job would be a tremendous accomplishment for McMillan at this stage.

McMillan has worked at all three linebacker spots since being drafted and is a candidate to start at any one of them.

“It’s definitely a goal of mine, but it’s a long-term goal,” he said. “What I’ve got to focus on is getting better tomorrow and focusing on what I did wrong today.”

Alonso and Timmons are Miami’s top two linebackers, and the third spot (one that vanishes when the team needs an extra defensive back) is likely a battle between McMillan, Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull. Hewitt started five games last year and Hull, who took first-team reps Thursday, started one.

When McMillan works at middle, it’s his responsibility to call the plays and make sure the team is lined up correctly. That’s a significant responsibility for a rookie, but the Dolphins need to find out quickly whether he can handle it.

That adjustment, as well as some others, have been even more difficult for McMillan in the brutal heat.

“It’s hard to concentrate right now just talking to y’all,” he said in his brief media availability after practice. “Other than that, it’s alright once you get used to it. I’ve been down here for a little while and got a little taste of it in the spring, but ain’t nothing like this.”

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[The latest on Mike Pouncey, who was sidelined for Day 1 of training camp]

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Despite Miami Dolphins’ LB overhaul, Mike Hull doing ‘everything I can’ to start

Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull (45) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) at Hard Rock Stadium in 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The linebacker who wouldn’t get recognized in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, according to at least one Dolphins coach last season, is no farther along the road to stardom.

“I blend in pretty well with the general population,” Mike Hull said Tuesday. “I keep a low profile.”

Away from football, that is.

On Sunday afternoons, Hull appeared in every game for the Dolphins last season and even started one. He finished second in the NFL with 18 tackles on special teams, which are run by Darren Rizzi, the coach who made the Dunkin’ Donuts wisecrack.

Now entering his third season, the question is whether Hull can take that next step in his career — becoming more of a factor on defense.

“I’m going to do everything I can to win that starting spot,” Hull said.

A difficult task got tougher this offseason, now that the Dolphins have added veteran Lawrence Timmons and rookie Raekwon McMillan to bolster an underperforming unit. They join Kiko Alonso, Koa Misi and Neville Hewitt in competing for playing time even though the Dolphins will often field only two linebackers.

Hull said he has been stressing footwork and “playing faster” this offseason, trying to make up for being undersized (6-feet, 233).

“Me being a little bit smaller of a linebacker, every step I can gain is an advantage for me,” he said. “I really think that’s something that will help bring me to the next level as far as defeating blocks in the run game and even getting myself in position to play the pass.”

Although a newcomer, Timmons has established himself as a disruptive force, said Clyde Christensen, the offensive coordinator, in response to a question on which defensive players have given him the most trouble.

“He’s quiet, but he gives really good advice,” Hull said of Timmons. “He’s not a ‘rah-rah’ type guy, but if you ask him a question or he has good insight on different looks or how even he played it in his last system, that can really go a long way with helping the young guys and even Kiko, bouncing things back and forth.”

[Offense piles up the yards, but not the points – why is that?]

[Charles Harris, Cameron Wake navigate complicated dynamics of their situation]

[A look at Raekwon McMillan’s introduction to playing with Kiko Alonso]

[William Hayes immediately becomes the most interesting man in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room]

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