COLUMBUS — It feels like a repeat of a debate that’s been heard before around Ohio State.
This year it’s about Raekwon McMillan. Eight years ago, it was about James Laurinaitis.
McMillan, the Buckeyes’ middle linebacker, has heard the same kinds of opinions Laurinaitis listened to from 2005-2008 that maybe he doesn’t make enough big plays and that he doesn’t play with the same flash and flair expected of a player whose sizable reputation preceded him.
Laurinaitis was the Butkus Award winner as the best linebacker in college football in 2007 and won the Nagurski Award as the top defensive player in college in 2006. But even after that, he had his doubters.
Some people even suggested Laurinaitis’ reputation and stature had been pumped up by the back story of his father being a famous professional wrestler.
Laurinaitis’ defenders said he had sound fundamentals and worked hard to be in the right place at the right time and that this was better than linebackers who focused only on big hits and often were caught out of position.
Laurinaitis finished his OSU career with 13 sacks and nine interceptions, so it wasn’t like he spent his Saturdays standing around and watching other people make plays around him. He was taken as the third selection in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams and is still in the NFL.
When McMillan, in his second season as a starter at middle linebacker, was asked to assess his performance so far this season during an interview session earlier this week, he looked at reporters and said, “If I ask you all, I’m playing the worst season in the world.”
McMillan’s statistics, maybe even more so than Laurinaitis’, don’t blow anyone away.
He has 51 tackles with 2.5 tackles for losses and no sacks this season. His high game for tackles is nine against Northwestern. Last year, he led OSU with 119 tackles and had 4 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. He had 16 tackles against Western Michigan and 14 in two other games.
“That’s just life. You’re not always making the play at middle linebacker,” said McMillan, a former 5-star recruit from Hinesville, Ga.
“You have to get everybody else situated and right. You’re not always the flashy guy that gets the most accolades. I’m just going out there and being a leader in every way that I can be,” he said.
Interestingly, McMillan says he hears that people are criticizing his play most often from OSU’s coaches. So, it might be possible there is some expansion or embellishment of the public’s opinions going on for motivational purposes.
“I just hear it because my coaches always talk about it. I’m just out there doing my job,” McMillan said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.