As a former five-star prospect and the heir-apparent to Ohio State’s great linebacking tradition can be forgotten, Raekwon McMillan has been.
After a stellar freshman season splitting time with starter Curtis Grant, McMillan assumed the starting middle linebacker duties this season to much fanfare. Since then, he’s largely been an afterthought.
Defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis have made plenty of plays this season, enticing fans with their previously unseen talent. A new session of the Vonn Bell Academy has been in session with the safety scoring his first career touchdown and recording an interception this season. Even among his own unit, McMillan has been the odd man out as Joshua Perry has served as the dependable captain flush with off-field recognition and Darron Lee’s playmaking has been impossible to ignore.
What people are missing if they aren’t looking at McMillan, however, is the second leading tackler for a defense that has been elite through three games this season.
“We’ve got the mindset that if we have to win a game 3-0 then that’s how we are going to win the game,” McMillan said. “We can’t depend on anyone else. We just got to go out there and stop that offense and do our job and then everything else takes care of itself.”
McMillan hasn’t made the spectacular play for the Buckeyes – he does not have a sack or tackle for loss and has not contributed one of Ohio State’s eight turnovers – but that’s largely because he hasn’t been asked to. While fellow linebackers Lee and Perry have often been employed as blitzers, McMillan has more often been asked to stay home in the middle and has executed that role to the tune of 24 tackles through three games, second only to Perry.
Given what he has been asked to do the fact that McMillan hasn’t stood out is largely a good thing for the Buckeyes. The sophomore is certainly making an impact, however, and here are some things to know about the way he is playing this season.
Confidence is Key
McMillan said that in his first season as a starter his confidence has skyrocketed. While that is partially due to the way he has been playing it is also a result of the players around him and behind him on the depth chart.
“I think the guys on the sidelines are really helping me play great,” the sophomore said. “I look to the sideline after I make a play or after a play that I messed up on and those guys are telling me what happened. When I come back to the sidelines those guys let me know what adjustments I need to make or how I can play better.
“Sometimes I don’t even have to talk to coach (Luke Fickell) on the sidelines because Cam Williams has broken down what I just did on the play and how I can play it better. I think those guys are helping me have confidence on the field this year and helping me play better.”
McMillan also sited Joe Berger, Chris Worley and Craig Fada as players who boost his confidence.
He Calls The Shots
The Buckeyes defensive line, like the rest of that side of the ball, has been elite so far this season. While that is certainly a credit to the talents of those players, McMillan deserves some praise for his role as well.
As the middle linebacker he is responsible for setting where the front four lines up and making sure the entire defense is on the same page.
“Last year I wasn’t real confident in setting the front and then knowing what the back end is doing behind me, but with the help of Josh and Darron and even Vonn and Tyvis (Powell), those are the guys that I always work with play-by-play,” McMillan said. “Just setting the front, knowing what the front is doing in front of me and whatever set the offense is coming out in, Vonn is always yelling the coverage behind me so he always helps me out and I’m more confident in what I’m doing so I’m playing a lot faster.”
It Doesn’t Matter Who Makes the Play
Would McMillan like to make more big plays for the Buckeye defense? Sure. But the sophomore said he loves it when Perry and Lee are used as edge rushers because he knows that they are going to make a big play. As long as someone on the defense makes it, McMillan is happy.
“I’m just waiting for those guys to go make plays,” he said. “Sitting out there and watching those guys go make plays, I’m happy for them. I think I’m happier for them when they make a play then when I go make a play for myself.”