Kolton Miller

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. 

Raiders' 2019 success could hinge on these five second-year players


Raiders' 2019 success could hinge on these five second-year players

The Raiders need instant impact from their rookie class. Equally important, however, is a significant improvement from last year’s newbies. That crew was thrown into the fire in 2018, especially after a veteran exodus in the season’s second half.

Head coach Jon Gruden has said he needs his second-year pros to make a significant jump in performance in 2019, a common event after players get a full offseason without the pre-draft process deterring from their long-term goals.

“I want to see our second-year players play better,” Gruden said in March. “They got to play a lot last year. Big deal. I want to see them play great this year.”

Here’s a look at five second-year players who must show well to strengthen this team and take some burden off the rookie class:

DE Arden Key

The LSU product only had one sack last year despite significant playing time. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes he could’ve had eight with better finishing.

“I’m going to look back and think, 'I should have had more sacks,'" Key said late last year. “I could have had more, but it’s just a matter of inches at this level and when look back on film I can see where and why I missed them.”

Key doesn’t have great size at 238 pounds, but he has excellent bend and length and agility to get around blockers. He was asked to play most downs after Khalil Mack was traded and Bruce Irvin was cut, despite entering his rookie year expecting to be a situational pass rusher. That might suit his strengths in Year 2, and he could thrive coming in fresh on obvious passing downs. Key has an array of pass-rush moves, but must further hone his skills and finish plays strong.

The Raiders need production from the defensive end spot, where the No. 4 overall pick, Clelin Ferrell, will occupy one spot. Key and run defender Josh Mauro could split time on the other side, though 2019 fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby is a wild card in this equation. It can’t be assumed Crosby will contribute right away, leaving Key to create pressure opposite Ferrell and form a young, formidable pass-rush combo.

LT Kolton Miller

The Raiders were hell-bent on taking a first-round offensive tackle in 2018, and ended up with the UCLA product at No. 15 overall. Miller has athleticism to spare, which was on display at times last season. A balky knee made those times rare. He suffered partial knee ligament tears early in the year, battled through the chronic issue and was consequently overmatched on a regular basis.

Miller allowed 16 sacks last season, several in tight bunches, and had some run-blocking issues. He continued to play – the Raiders didn’t have any other legitimate options – showing great toughness and resolve despite some disappointing results.

Nobody needed this offseason more than Miller, who has regained health and reportedly gained significant lean mass and bulk. That will help him weather a second season and provide stability on the offense’s left flank.

The Raiders have chosen to leave Miller on the left – he has experience on the right, but struggled some there in college – even after adding high-priced signing Trent Brown.

Having Miller on the left and Brown on the right is the preferred alignment, though there are backup plans. The Raiders anticipate a big jump from Miller in 2019, where he can live up to his potential after a difficult rookie year.

DT P.J. Hall

The Sam Houston State product was drafted ahead of position-mate Maurice Hurst, but played second fiddle to him last season. Hall was hurt early in the year and, certainly needed development coming from a small school, but his interior pass rush ability will be required for improved defensive line play in 2019. He could work alongside Hurst on passing downs, to use his power and low center of gravity to break pockets down from the inside.

Hall can be a solid run defender as well. The Raiders didn’t add a defensive tackle this season, so they need better from the guys they have. There’s great optimism surrounding Hurst’s prospects. Having Hall take a step up as well will help a defensive front that has struggled to create pressure from anywhere recently.

P Johnny Townsend

The Raiders used a fifth-round pick to secure Townsend’s services, and got a punter who took some rookie lumps. His 38.3-yard net average ranked 30th last year, and he didn’t show the pinpoint accuracy he was known for at the University of Florida.

Townsend was given the job last year, but he’ll have some competition this year. The Raiders signed experienced punter Drew Kaser but have cut him already in favor of N.C. State rookie A.J. Cole, who will battle for the job this offseason and in training camp.

Townsend could well be a productive NFL punter, but he must show improvement and consistency to keep his gig.

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LB Jason Cabinda

The Raiders are hoping Vontaze Burfict can resurrect his career reuniting with Paul Guenther in Oakland following an injury-riddled 2018 campaign. He will start if healthy and will run the defense from the middle linebacker spot.

Burfict hasn’t played a full season since 2013 and hasn’t played more than 11 games during that stretch, hindered by injuries and suspensions.

That means Cabinda will likely be called upon to play an important role at some point. He’d better be ready for it, anyway. An undrafted rookie last year who started on the practice squad, Cabinda worked his way into the defensive rotation later in the season.

Development is required, and Cabinda must do so while learning the system from Burfict and prepping for when his time comes.

What Mike Mayock said on Raiders' last three first-round draft picks


What Mike Mayock said on Raiders' last three first-round draft picks

Mike Mayock is one of the most respected minds in the NFL draft community.

When he was a draft analyst for NFL Network, his word was gospel. Now, the Raiders get to benefit from his wisdom after hiring him as their general manager.

So, what did Mayock think of the Raiders’ last three first-round draft picks? We're glad you asked.

In 2016, the Raiders selected West Virginia safety Karl Joseph with the No. 14 overall pick. He struggled during his first two seasons, but 2018 was seen as a breakout campaign for the 25-year-old.

Here's what Mayock said about Joseph when the 2016 NFL Draft had concluded:

"With his range, toughness and ability to drop down in the slot and cover man, he's like a poor man's Earl Thomas. He says he models his game after Brian Dawkins. Some say he's much like Bob Sanders. This is a dynamic playmaker."

Joseph certainly hasn't lived up to the Earl Thomas comparison. Thomas is a three-time first-team All-Pro. After three seasons, Joseph isn't at that level yet.

The next year, the Raiders again addressed their secondary, picking Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley at No. 24. It was a risky pick because of the baggage that came with Conley. Just before the draft, he was accused of rape.

Injuries cost him most of his rookie campaign, but Conley played in 15 games in 2018, and finished with three interceptions and 37 total tackles.

At the time, Mayock focused on Conley's legal troubles when he said this:

"You can't make that pick and be wrong because your owner is gonna hold you accountable for it if this kid ends up with any kind of jail time."

Two years later, Reggie McKenzie was out as GM.

Last year, the Raiders wanted Mike McGlinchey at No. 10, but the 49ers snagged him at No. 9. So Oakland traded the No. 10 pick to Arizona for No. 15 and two later picks. They used that No. 15 pick to select UCLA offensive lineman Kolton Miller.

Miller had his ups and downs during the 2018 season. At one point late in the season, he was leading the league in sacks allowed. But big things still are expected from him, and some pressure will taken off Miller with the addition of high-priced free agent Trent Brown.

Here's what Mayock said about Miller at this time last year.

"They get the No. 2 offensive tackle in this draft to put behind Donald Penn, the incumbent left tackle. He can start on the right side. He only answered the bell 23 times in three years. Durability is a concern."

[RELATED: Mock draft has Raiders trading up for a QB]

Miller erased any concern about his durability by starting all 16 games as a rookie.

Now, instead of critiquing the Raiders’ draft class, Mayock is in charge of picking the players whom others will critique.