A year ago this week, Kolton Miller was a student athlete at UCLA, preparing for a matchup against the Memphis Tigers.
Fast forward to the present, and Miller is the starting left tackle for the Oakland Raiders, gearing up try to stop a Denver Broncos defensive front that tallied six sacks in their regular season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
And that’s just a week after the Silver and Black’s offensive line was tasked with keeping Derek Carr safe from the likes of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
Welcome to the NFL, rook.
In all seriousness, it’s been quite the start of the year for Miller and the offensive line, as their first two opponents combined for 81 total sacks in 2017; but give the group credit, from Donald Penn on the right, to Miller on the left, they’ve played well thus far, although Sunday’s matchup in Denver will be a whole different beast to tame.
“Big challenge, obviously, last week for our interior guys against the Rams,” said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “Against the Broncos certainly those edge players, both Donald and Kolton will have their hands full. I just had mentioned to Donald out on the practice field, we felt as a coaching staff that he really didn’t look out of place at right tackle. We thought there might be some growing pains but really from the first day that we moved him there he looked natural playing the right tackle position. In conversations I had with him he said, ‘I still don’t feel completely comfortable.’ He said, ‘I felt better than I thought I would initially.’ We were happy with how he played. He played aggressive. He played the entire game but looked natural at the right tackle.”
Although the Silver and Black ended up losing to the Rams, the team’s offensive line really did do a nice job in keeping Derek Carr upright, allowing just one sack on the night – which to be fair came as a result of Carr tripping at the line of scrimmage.
And for all the conversation regarding how Miller and Penn would handle their first game as the bookends of the Raiders offensive line, Head Coach Jon Gruden was pleased with what he saw from the duo against the Rams.
“I thought they did well, I was really pleased,” Gruden said when discussing Miller and Penn. “I don’t know how many times we threw it officially but pass protection against that outfit was good. They gave us a lot of different looks, a lot of different blitzes. They have some formidable people inside that are hard to block. We had some good looks in the passing game … I wish we got more out of it.”
As good as the Rams front seven is, the Broncos front that the team will face Sunday afternoon might be even better.
With Bradley Chubb, Shaquil Barrett and Derek Wolfe, the group is stacked, but let’s be honest, when you talk about the Broncos pass rush, you have to start with All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller, who delivered a classic performance last week, totaling three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
That said, Miller knows that he’ll have his hands full when the Raiders come into town for the opening of AFC West play.
“Donald Penn can play any position on the line. 77 [Kolton Miller] is a beast,” Miller said. “He was the best tackle in this year’s draft. I’ve always said the Raiders have the best offensive line in football. They made it a whole lot better with the Miller kid.”
At the end of the day, Sunday’s matchup in Denver will feature a team that tallied six sacks in their opener against a team that allowed just a single sack in theirs, and as we’ve come to know, anything can happen when the Broncos and Raiders strap on the pads.
“It’s just fun to compete against those guys,” Derek Carr said. “Especially when you have been in the league for five years now. You know them, you joke with them in the offseason and then you play them, and they are right there again. It’s fun man but no I never have any issue playing these guys. From a mentality standpoint I love playing the best. That’s why you grow up as a kid, wanting to make it to the NFL because you want to play against the best. Playing against Aaron and then playing against Von and those guys this week, it’s always fun.”
Kickoff in Denver is scheduled for 1:25 PM.