Raekwon McMillan happy to have his ‘peace’ back as he plays into Patriots’ linebacker battle

McMillan tore his ACL during training camp last season.

Raekwon McMillan was all smiles when speaking to the press on Friday.

FOXBOROUGH — Around this time last year, linebacker Raekwon McMillan looked like a potential breakout star in training camp. He received high praise from Bill Belichick, who signed him earlier in the 2021 offseason after he played the previous three seasons with the Dolphins and Raiders.

Right as McMillan was building momentum though, he tore his ACL in practice, ending his first season in New England before the regular season began. It also marked the second time McMillan tore his ACL in his short career, tearing it in his rookie season in 2017.

McMillan, 26, was activated the day before training camp opened after getting placed on the physically unable to perform list a week earlier. After a year away, McMillan was all smiles after Friday’s practice, the Patriots’ third, as he remarked on how happy he was to be on the field again.


“It’s a blessing to be back on my feet, on the grass, in all honesty, all jokes aside,” McMillan said. “It’s a blessing to be back with [Ja’Whaun Bentley], [Matthew] Judon. Some of the other guys on defense, [Davon] Godchaux, [Christian] Barmore, I could name everybody on defense. It’s just a blessing to see their smiles, out there making plays with them and playing football again.

“This is where I find my peace. I’m glad to have my peace back.”

McMillan came to the Patriots in a spot of his career where he was trying to prove his value around the league. The 2017 second-round pick recorded 105 combined tackles as a rookie with the Dolphins. McMillan missed a few games in 2019, dropping his tackle total to 72.

Right as the preseason ended in 2020, Miami shipped McMillan to Las Vegas. McMillan didn’t make much of an impact with the Raiders in his contract year, playing just 16 percent of the team’s defensive snaps to record 27 combined tackles.

The ACL injury obviously threw a wrench into any future plans McMillan had in 2021. He said he “learned a lot about myself over the last year” though, and is using an NBA player friend of his as motivation.


“I got this new mantra [from] my boy Davion Mitchell, who plays for the Sacramento Kings and is from Hinesville, Georgia,” McMillan said. “He always said ‘Trust your work.’ So this whole summer I’m thinking about trusting the whole process of rehabbing and getting back to where I want to be. Like I said, my cleats are back in the grass and I’m just trusting everything that I did this summer leading into now, so I can progress and keep going.”

Entering 2022, McMillan enters a weird spot as he has a year under his belt with an organization he’s yet to play a game for. He said he’s “a little bit more familiar” now with the Patriots than he was a year ago, but there’s still more for him to gain knowledge about.

“I’m still trying to learn my way around here. It’s a lot that I need to learn,” McMillan said. “But there’s also a lot I can teach young guys about — adversity, coming through it, being through a lot of my career. Moving forward, I just wanna help all of my teammates as much as I can — (possibly) with the younger guys and also getting some knowledge from some of the older guys that have been here who can help me out along the way.”


Despite losing his “peace” in 2021, a positive thing McMillan got was that he was able to work in some capacity with an idol of his.

“Back in high school, before my high school games, I used to type in ‘Dont’a Hightower highlights’ and sit and watch his highlights before my high school games,” McMillan said. “Now, we were sitting side-by-side in the locker room. He was kind of one of my inspirations growing up.”

“I always looked up to his game and thought he was one of the best in the league,” McMillan added on Hightower. “He’s a potential Hall-of-Famer. I for sure was watching him growing up.”

McMillan’s in the possible spot where he’s the one to replace the Patriots legend. Hightower remains a free agent months after his contract expired, and with New England only adding one linebacker over the offseason, McMillan has a chance to not only earn a roster spot, but be a starter, too.

McMillan’s already got reps with the first- and second-team unis during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11 drills during the first few (padless) practices of camp. Just like he did last year, Belichick is high on McMillan’s future outlook.

“Raekwon works really hard, really smart player, has experience, understands a lot at the linebacker position, obviously there’s a lot going on there, but he handles things well,” Belichick said Wednesday. “Signal caller, multiple-position player. It’s good to see him back out there. He looks like he’s recovered very well and based on what we saw in the spring and limited looks here this first week, I’d say he’s doing very well.


Whether it’s as a starting linebacker or just a special teamer, McMillan’s going to be happy the first time he puts a Patriots helmet and uniform on for a gameday.

“It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be amazing,” McMillan said. “Just being out there with the guys is putting a smile on my face again. It’s been a long process. But like I said, we’re on to new things and better things.”


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