Raiders

Raiders' Kolton Miller promises to 'be better' after rocky rookie season

Raiders' Kolton Miller promises to 'be better' after rocky rookie season

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. 

[RELATED: Gruden not worried about relationships despite AB's OTA absence

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. 

How Raiders' bolstered secondary depth can help defense vs. Packers

How Raiders' bolstered secondary depth can help defense vs. Packers

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have some serious cornerback depth right now. They’re healthy at that spot and have activated Nevin Lawson after a four-game suspension and a week’s practice as a roster exemption.

The veteran’s primed and ready to contribute right now, if he’s worthy of an active roster spot over some others. Isaiah Johnson is set to come off injured reserved after next week’s game at Houston, further fortifying the deepest defensive position group.

Those numbers will also allow Daryl Worley to move around the defensive backfield in what Jon Gruden called a hybrid role.

Coaches aren’t spelling out exactly what that will look like, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Worley’s comfortable playing several different spots in the defensive backfield, from cornerback to safety to down low in the box.

“Daryl is a smart guy, he can be like having an extra corner cover guy on the field,” Guenther said. “He understands the run fits, the blitzes, the leverages in coverage, whether it’s inside or outside. So, to have a guy with that knowledge and that ability and the physicalness to play inside versus the run on some early down and distances, that’s something that we utilize him for, and he can do it. That’s kind of what we are talking about there, it’s having an extra corner on the field.”

That means Lawson or rookie Trayvon Mullen would slide into Worley’s regular cornerback spot opposite Gareon Conley to fill a gap. That allows the Raiders to use more of their secondary strength while countering some deficiencies at linebacker with Vontaze Burfict suspended the rest of the year. They got creative to keep Lamarcus Joyner on the field when he was largely schemed out of Week 3’s loss to Minnesota, and are coming up with creative ways to enhance coverage against tight ends and in bigger packages.

“You have to give credit to our coaches credit,” Lawson said. “They are doing a great job of getting people involved. We have some talent across the board in the secondary, and we have depth there as well. The defensive backs have to rise to the occasion, no matter who is out there or where guys are playing. We look forward to the challenge of playing well."

While we don’t know who will be among the 46 active players on Sunday at Green Bay, Lawson is excited for a return after missing the season’s start due to a PED violation. The anticipation’s certainly high for the veteran hoping to make his season debut.

“I’m more than excited to be out there,” Lawson said. “I got really tired of watching. This is a good team and we’re getting better every day. I just want to contribute to the group and help us win.”

The Raiders know they can’t survive forever playing just two linebackers on defense, even with Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow operating well as a pairing.

[RELATED: Raiders must pounce with Mahomes out]

“Well you got to have linebackers,” Gruden said. “Anytime someone comes out and wants to play old-fashioned, big boy football you got to have linebackers. Losing Burfict is big, I’m still not happy about it. I’m just not happy about it. … I’m not happy about that but it is what it is, and we’ll get Dakota Allen and whoever the next man up is, we’ll get him ready to go.”

Allen and Justin Phillips are linebackers in reserve, though the Raiders won’t just put them out there because it says “LB” on their football card. Secondary depth will play a role in the defensive scheme, which is forced to adjust to some setbacks in the front seven.

Raiders need help from new receivers Trevor Davis, Zay Jones vs. Packers

trevordavisusa.jpg
USATSI

Raiders need help from new receivers Trevor Davis, Zay Jones vs. Packers

ALAMEDA -- Trevor Davis hasn’t been a Raider long. The fourth-year veteran was traded from Green Bay during Week 3, immediately getting a crash course in Raiders football.

It wasn’t realistic for him to play Minnesota just days after the trade, but he integrated quickly and has played both games since. Honestly, he had no choice. Ryan Grant got cut and J.J. Nelson couldn’t get right enough to play in Week 4 or 5, making the Raiders reliant on the lightning-quick Cal alum right away.

He introduced himself to Raider Nation with a 60-yard touchdown run against Indianapolis, and then caught four passes for 42 yards on as many targets against Chicago in London. He made a major mistake in that one, getting the ball punched out at the goal line in the second half of a tight Bears game.

It was at that moment, oddly enough, his lowest as a Raider, that he truly felt accepted on his new team.

“It’s a tight-knit group. It was clear when I got here, especially when I made a bad play in the Chicago game,” Davis said Friday. “They all rallied around me even though some of the guys barely even know who I am. They backed me up, and that was big for me and my confidence here.”

The Raiders picked him up that day, knowing full well that they’d need him to produce all season long. That’s especially true heading into Sunday’s game against his old team.

Tyrell Williams has been ruled out against the Packers with plantar fasciitis. Nelson’s on the street, leaving Davis as the receiver corps’ primary target. As crazy as it sounds, Hunter Renfrow’s the only receiver to have played every game this season.

Davis is finally comfortable working with quarterback Derek Carr and within Jon Gruden’s offensive system heading into this important showdown at Lambeau Field.

“I have most of the offense down at this point, which is a good place to be after coming to a team during the season,” Davis said. “Your head can spin coming in from a different offense. There are similar concepts with completely different names. You have to have trigger something in your mind to the concept is associated with something different. The transition is hard, but you have to have to delete everything you knew and focus on what you’re learning now.”

Davis certainly empathizes with Jones, who is in the in-season integration process’ early stages. Jones was added in a trade from Buffalo nearly two weeks ago now and admits his head is spinning a bit trying to get everything down. He spent the bye week in the classroom with Gruden and extra time with receivers and offensive coordinator Greg Olson after each practice.

“He’s a very quick study, quick learner,” Olson said. “We had him in last week early in the week. Very intelligent football player and that jumped out at us right away and then we got a chance to see him on the practice field here early in the week running full speed. He’s got tremendous speed and quickness. It’s early right now, but we like what we see.”

Jones obviously doesn’t know the entire offense, and it seems unlikely he even all the plays in Sunday’s game plan down. There will be ways for him to contribute right away and to get the talented young receiver involved quickly.

The Raiders will need Davis and Jones to step up and help diversify a passing game that’s more focused on tight ends and running backs in recent weeks.

“Can’t say enough about the job Trevor [Davis] has done, as our returner, as our flanker,” Gruden said. “And to get Zay for what we feel like we gave up is a risk worth taking and we’ll see if it pays any dividends, but he’s a good young player. He’s got some size and speed and was a very, very productive receiver, so we’re happy to have him.”

Davis was in Green Bay for three-plus seasons and tried to help the defense out with some Packers' offensive tendencies. Grant is a Packer now and is certainly doing the same thing with his Raiders experience.

[RELATED: Raiders must take advantage with Patrick Mahomes out]

Davis knows a return trip to Green Bay will be meaningful, but he’s trying to tone down the emotions and treat this like any other game. While getting traded away from the team that employed him so long is difficult, he appreciates learning from some excellent veterans while there that gave him a step up heading into this new venture.

“I learned a lot there,” Davis said. “Playing with Aaron and with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, those guys taught me a lot about the game. I’ve learned a lot that I’m able to apply here with the Raiders. It was nice to come in and feel like I knew nuances of the position joining this offense, and that came thanks to the veterans I have played with.”