Raiders

Why the Raiders made decision to take Kolton Miller at No. 15

Why the Raiders made decision to take Kolton Miller at No. 15

ALAMEDA – The Raiders entered the NFL draft's opening round with a couple defensive players in mind. 

They were known to like North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb, as the Athletic first reported, and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. They couldn't secure either elite prospect on Thursday evening. Denver took Chubb at No. 5. Chicago snagged Smith at No. 8. That was no surprise.

Then the Raiders shifted focus solely on the offensive line.  

They honed in on Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, universally considered the best offensive tackle in this draft. The 49ers snagged him at No. 9, a selection won with a tiebreaking coin flip against the Raiders.

The Raiders didn’t use their No. 10 pick. They regrouped quickly and traded back with Arizona, taking the Nos. 15, 79 and 152 selections for the drop.

Florida State safety Derwin James and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds were still available at No. 15. The Raiders liked them both, but were undeterred in their quest to improve the tackle spot.

The Raiders took UCLA’s Kolton Miller at No. 15, the next tackle on their draft board.

The pick was met with some skepticism from the fan base, which considered him unworthy of the draft slot. That was especially true with top defenders available who play sexier positions. Leaving James on the board, in particular, was a point of contention for many.

The Raiders stuck with a guy NFL Network said they would’ve taken at No. 10. They got a couple extra picks – one quickly turned into Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant – and shored up an area of weakness.

The Raiders have unheralded veteran Breno Giacomini and a mix of developmental prospects at right tackle. Miller will compete to start there this season, with a long-term plan of moving to left tackle when 35-year old Donald Penn’s contract ends after 2019 at the latest. The three-time Pro Bowler is still recovering from foot surgery, though a full recovery’s in the cards. Penn will make roughly $8 million in 2018 with a $10.3 million sum due the next year, though his 2019 money isn’t guaranteed.

Miller will cost far less than that. Having someone on a rookie deal playing a premium position – left tackles often get eight-figure salaries – will help the Raiders survive paying massive sums to Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and several star members of the offensive line.

Those plans are contingent on one key thing: Miller’s development. He has the physical tools to be an excellent NFL blocker, but must improve in some areas to reach full potential.

“He’s a big man that can move his feet,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “He’s played left tackle and right tackle. He’s been an offensive lineman pretty much his whole life. He understands the game. He’s an excellent athlete who has great potential, so we feel really good about adding him to the Raider roster.”

Miller was a second choice behind McGlinchey, but he still solves an issue on this offense. The right tackle has been a mess for years. Head coach Jon Gruden, this team’s primary shot caller, understood that. The Raiders have plenty of developmental linemen. They needed to use a premium pick in an effort to satisfy present and future needs.

While one source said there was some debate over Miller within the organization, offensive line coach Tom Cable is happy about this pick. He was a big Miller fan, and McKenzie said he played a big role in making this pick.

His 2017 game tape wasn’t great, but he tested well at the NFL combine. Miller’s known as a hard worker focused on shoring up individual weaknesses, vital to someone who needs to develop.

“When you talk about pass protection and staying in front of his guy, that’s what he does,” McKenzie said. “I mean he’s got the length, he’s got the great feet and when you’re talking about playing at the second level, pulling. I mean, this guy has a lot of talent and we think if we can get him on scheme and get (Cable) working with him, he’s going to flourish.”

Derek Carr building solid chemistry with Raiders' brand new WR crew

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Derek Carr building solid chemistry with Raiders' brand new WR crew

Derek Carr’s offseason program doesn’t start when the NFL gives a green light. The Raiders starting quarterback works hard on his own and has previously held a private passing camp in Bakersfield to building chemistry with his receivers during periods where the league prohibits team activity.

This offseason, however, has been something different altogether. Carr’s winter throwing schedule was packed getting in sync with his new receivers.

“These guys, they’re texting me saying, ‘Hey, I’m in town, let’s go.’ I’ll get off my couch, I’ll bring my kids and we’ll go throw,” Carr said Tuesday. “It’s nice to see how hard they want to work and how great they want to be.

“Every quarterback wants to do that, but to have wideouts reaching out saying let’s go do this, it’s pretty cool. Hitting them up saying, ‘Hey man, I’m going to be in town, do you want to throw this day and this day?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there!’ And literally, they’re taking flights the next day to get there. It means something to them.”

Carr was speaking in generalities about all receivers, but let’s be honest. Most of the texts are coming from Antonio Brown.

Brown has been, shall we say, forward about his desire to work out with Carr. They found an East Bay park to throw at before ink was dry on the trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to Oakland for third- and fifth-round picks. Brown and Carr went out together several times at San Ramon and Dublin parks, and even against Cal’s defensive backs at Memorial Stadium, before they were allowed to join forces at the Raiders Alameda complex.

It’s easy, however, to assume that only one receiver was going the extra mile because Brown’s camp blanketed social media with hype videos from these sessions.

It was Tyrell Williams, however, making an impromptu trip or two to work out with Carr and Brown during a dead period.

Brown and Williams will be featured players in the passing game, but were only part of a complete positional overhaul that left Marcell Ateman as the only returning receiver to make an impact last year.

Brown, Williams, Ryan Grant, J.J. Nelson and fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow are all new, and are expected to contribute in the pattern.

“We all understood that we had to get on the same page – all the guys – we all got together and we all threw,” Carr said. “We understood that we had some making up to do, but I think we’ve hit a good stride and we have a little ways to go.”

Time and repetition. That’s the key to building a solid rapport. Sync comes with timing and trust on both ends. Receivers have to be reliable route runners with secure hands. Carr must deliver passes on time and within a certain radius. Both must make adjustments without saying a word to make Jon Gruden’s offense work.

Practice makes perfect, though Carr did some homework on the new guys, watching tape of them with other teams to better understand how they work.

“That’s huge, and seeing how someone breaks on a route – because half the time you only get a split second when you see them break, you don’t get to see the whole picture – I’m throwing behind massive bodies and I just have to know that that’s where the ball is supposed to be,” Carr said. “Same thing with ‘AB’, and Tyrell and J.J. and Ryan and Renfrow. Although, I didn’t watch any Clemson tape, forgive me for not watching college, it’s a little slower nowadays to me. (laughter)

“Watching these guys run these routes and watching how they break, you definitely take a look at it, especially with ‘AB’. The success that he and Ben [Roethlisberger] had, you’d be silly not to see what they did. I’d be a fool to say, ‘Ah, no, let’s do it our way.’ No, let me see what you all did good, because we can do the same things here, you’re just wearing a different color.”

The passing game has entered a significant growth stage. Players can go against defenders for the first time during the offseason program’s third phase, comprised of 10 OTA sessions – the first one came Tuesday – and a three-day mandatory minicamp.

Development should come quickly under these conditions.

"Starting here in OTAs, you learn how we like to run the routes against certain coverages, how I like to release, how long it takes me to get off the press, stuff like that,” Williams said. “He sees it in practice and then we’re able to watch the tape together, which is big (when building chemistry).”

That was clear Tuesday when Carr and Williams connected on a long bomb in OTAs. Williams created just enough separation and Carr let it fly, trusting Williams would win possession in traffic. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. That’s a trust point right there, when repeated in practice, that will make Carr take a shot without hesitation.

While Brown wasn’t at Tuesday’s OTA – they’re all voluntary – he has spent significant time with Carr. That was evident in a Wednesday session closed to the media, which was documented some by Brown’s team.

On-field connections sometimes come from off-field moments, just getting to know a guy. Carr and Jordy Nelson played lots of offseason golf. Amari Cooper played basketball games with Carr. Brown is heavily involved with Carr personally and professionally this offseason to help establish a connection.

“With these guys, they’re coming to the house, coming to kids’ birthday parties, they’re hanging out just randomly not even doing anything,” Carr said. “It’s different for every person, but just making sure we’re spending time together and helping build our team.”

[RELATED: Carr annoyed by speculation Raiders would draft another quarterback]

Carr has made a strong impression on his new receivers, with his ability to make every throw and how hard he works away from the practice field.

“He wants to be perfect at everything,” Williams said. “Timing, earlier, that’s a big thing and just getting together like that is really important to him. He’s always staying after and always communicating so that’s big. There should be no reason we all aren’t on the same page because we try to over-communicate everything. I think that’s important for him, and I like that too.”

Watch Antonio Brown catch deep TD from Raiders QB Derek Carr at OTAs

Watch Antonio Brown catch deep TD from Raiders QB Derek Carr at OTAs

Derek Carr and Antonio Brown connected on their first deep touchdown as Raiders teammates Wednesday in Alameda. 

It doesn't count in the box score and there's no points on a scoreboard, but this is still a pretty sight to see for Raiders fans. 

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DC young Fly #🐔plan

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Brown burned defensive back Lamarcus Joyner as Carr hit his new star receiver in stride at organized team activities. The former Steelers star also shared a handful of pictures from his first day in Raiders gear with the caption "#RaiderNation I love football and winning." 

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#RaiderNation I love football and winning

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Brown missed the first day of OTAs on Tuesday, but head coach Jon Gruden wasn't worried about his absence

"He's been working extremely hard learning our offense and we're excited to get him out here," Gruden said. 

[RELATED: Derek Carr was 'annoyed' by speculation]

The Raiders acquired Brown from the Steelers this offseason for two 2019 NFL Draft picks. He then signed a three-year contract worth over $50 million with the Silver and Black. 

Brown is a four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler.