ALAMEDA -- Kolton Miller's rookie season wasn't one to remember.
The Raiders' 2018 first-round pick out of UCLA was given the nod at left tackle Week 1and underperformed expectations.
Miller gave up an NFL-high 16 sacks and league-worst 65 pressures while dealing with multiple knee sprains. He could have blamed the injuries for his limited mobility and disappointing rookie campaign, but instead, he just put on his brace and showed up to work, never making excuses for his performance.
Despite a rookie season that saw him ranked as the 60th best offensive tackle by Pro Football Focus, the Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden expect big things from Miller, now that he's healthy and gained strength during the offseason.
"We think Kolton Miller’s going to be one of the best at left tackle in football," Gruden said Tuesday after the first day of the Raiders' organized team activities program. "He’s not only healthy, he’s in great shape. He’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s added some weight, some muscle. And he’s still a real flexible athlete that can run and change direction and being in the second year in the system we expect a lot of good things."
Miller, who weighed 310 pounds at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine last February, said he now checks in at 328. The Raiders signed Trent Brown to a massive contract in the offseason, but Gruden is electing to keep Miller at left tackle, where he is more comfortable, and have Brown man the right side.
After using the offseason to get healthy and build strength, Miller promises to be a different player in 2019.
"It felt good staying left [tackle]," Miller said. "But of course, I’m a team player, I’m going to go where they put me and what they think is best for the team. I know that I have a job to do and I know last year wasn’t good enough. There was a lot of problems with that and I’m expected to be better and I will be better.”
Miller believes that he can take a lot from his injury-riddled rookie season, even though his performance didn't measure up to the standard of play he's capable of producing.
“I think it will help tremendously," Miller said about being healthy. "I think the knowledge of how to deal with those injuries helped. I think the game experience helped and I think now that I am stronger, I’ll be a lot better.”
The Raiders will need Miller to keep quarterback Derek Carr stayed upright if they have any hope of having a successful 2019 season. The sixth-year quarterback has all the faith in the world in the man charged with protecting his blindside.
“Man he is huge, y’all saw him," Carr said of Miller. "I don’t know if he’s gained 30 pounds or what but he looks great ... He worked his tail off and I knew that about him all season.
"When he was playing early in the season he was locking some people up," Carr continued. "And then when he got hurt, he never missed a practice, never missed a rep in practice. If coach said ‘You got to get out,’ he’s like, ‘No coach I’m good.’ I knew right then and there, ‘Man this guy is going to do whatever it takes to come in here and be better.’ I’ve seen nothing but that from him.
"He’s super quiet, so y’all don’t get to see that side of him. But I’ve seen him grit his teeth and really bare down in certain situations where I’ve seen other people cower away, to be honest with you, and he hasn’t shown that — not even close. And to see him come in, how big and strong he is in the weight room and how much it meant to him, it was really cool to see because it just confirmed everything I believed about him.”
While Miller will be a key to the Raiders' offensive success this season, the Silver and Black also will need to figure out a solution at left guard.
Brandon Parker saw some reps at that spot Tuesday, but it's still unknown who will line up next to Miller when the Raiders open their season.
Regardless of who slots in next to Miller, the Raiders' ability to win games may very well hinge on how he plays in his sophomore season. If Miller spends more time helping Carr up off the turf than he does celebrating long touchdown throws to Antonio Brown, the second year of Gruden's second stint at the helm could go much like the first.
Miller has promised to be better and has seemingly put in the work this offseason to be a different player at left tackle.
His pledge will be put to the test immediately, as the Raiders open their season against Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the Denver Broncos on Sept. 9.