Approached in the Raiders locker room Thursday to chat, rookie left tackle Kolton Miller flashed a smile, hesitant to talk at first. He asked if the questions would be about Von Miller, maybe the league’s best edge rusher the rookie has to block this Sunday in Denver.
The Raiders’ first round pick grinned because he already knows what people want to hear from him this week and where plenty of eyes will be if the two are matched up against each other come 1:25 p.m. kickoff at Mile High Stadium. It seemed he just wanted to focus on his gargantuan task, though, rather than wax poetic about the Miller vs. Miller battle.
Before he scurried out of the locker room to meetings, he was asked if Sunday’s game will be any easier than the Monday night season opener since the first-game jitters have subsided. Miller, the affable giant from Roseville listed at 6-foot-8 and 309 pounds, chuckled.
“We still have a hell of a challenge coming up this week,” he said with a smile. “They have some edge rushers.”
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Week 2 provides a chance for Miller to put the NFL on notice. Aside from an early holding penalty against the Rams, Miller held his own in his regular season debut. The Rams’ edge rushers aren’t as potent as defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamkong Suh, so Miller didn’t deal with them as much as Oakland’s interior offensive linemen did. Now the rookie gets the real deal of pass-rushers, namely Von Miller and No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb, as an encore task.
Von Miller ran wild on the Seahawks in Week 1, sacking Russell Wilson three times and forcing two fumbles. The Raiders rookie left tackle would never say it, but watching that film couldn’t have made him any more comfortable about Sunday’s matchup even if his pre-debut nerves are gone.
“I think I did well. I still have some stuff to clean up on, but I think it was a good starting point,” Miller said of his performance against the Rams. “Good building block moving forward and I got the first game out of the way so looking to build off of it.”
Last year’s game in Denver is where the Raiders’ season took a turn for the worst. Broncos defensive end Adam Gotsis, still a first-teamer in Denver, hit Derek Carr in his lower back on a sack. Carr suffered three separate transverse process fractures – one typically takes 2-6 weeks to heal – and only missed about five quarters of regular season action. He was never the same for the remainder of 2017, clearly hampered by a lower back that wasn’t fully healed upon his return.
The Raiders hope this time around in Denver doesn’t deliver the same bad fortunes, and protecting Carr’s blindside is the most important job in making sure it doesn’t. Miller has the odds stacked against him facing a fellow Miller, and he’s probably an underdog, too, in a matchup against Chubb. Maybe the Broncos are going with the ol’ “Build him up to break him down” tactic, but by the way they’re hyping up the rookie you’d think Miller has delivered more than just one game of sufficient tape as a pro.
“77 is a beast. He was the best tackle in this year’s draft,” Von Miller said of the Raiders’ left tackle. “I’ve always said the Raiders have the best offensive line in football. They made it a whole lot better with the Miller kid.”
“It’s always a challenge with Miller,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s a special player. In my opinion, he was the best tackle in the entire draft.”
Now the UCLA product gets an opportunity to meet the hype or wilt under the pressure of one of the NFL’s premier pass-rush units.
And if he can sustain Von Miller and Chubb, among others, that would be a substantial step in making the Raiders feel that much more comfortable about their decision to start the rookie.
“I know he gained the respect of the Rams players he went against last week,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “You listened to the Broncos this week, I think they gained a level of respect for him in an opening game for a rookie. We like the direction that he is going and he’s a young player. We still think the ceiling is very high with him, but we were happy with how he came out of that game.”