2018 is testing the Oakland Raiders: mentally, physically, and emotionally.
At 1-8 it's hard to stay positive, but Raider Nation, believe me when I say the players and coaching staff are just as frustrated as you. No one is pleased with the current record, and the unit is adamant about playing an improved brand of football.
It's been an uphill battle for everyone, but it's reasonable to think the rookies might be struggling more than the rest; however, that's not the case. First-round pick Kolton Miller has started every game this season, despite dealing with a knee injury the last few weeks. Like any rookie, he's experienced his fair share of slipups, but his ability to persevere is something plenty of his teammates have noticed.
"They're fighters," guard Gabe Jackson said in reference to Miller and fellow rookie tackle Brandon Parker. "And they listening to coaches, trying to take coaching, and they do they job on Sunday. I feel like they've done a really good job at that."
"He's going against most team's very best player," Derek Carr said Wednesday during his media session. "That's how this thing works. For him to do that while he's hurt, for him to do while he's getting scrutinized…As an offensive lineman, your quarterback gets hit, it's not going to be pleasant for him. It's going to be tough for him. He's a young guy. I don't know if he checks Twitter or anything like that, it's probably not going to be fun for him. As a young guy, he's trying to figure things out and all that kinds of stuff. To see him continually just keep the same look on his face, continue to work, continue to come out here braced up if he has to just to practice, that says a lot about who he is. I'm very excited that we have him."
The Raiders return to the practice field to prepare for their Week 11 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.
Miller is expected to be the Raiders' left tackle of the future, and at 23 years old he has plenty of growing to do in terms of understanding life at the NFL level – physically, he towers over just about anyone he stands next to, standing 6'8" and weighing 309 pounds. As mentioned previously, Miller has been dealing with a knee injury, but he feels like he's finally recovering.
"I've been sort of dealing with it for a couple weeks now, and I guess I'm just getting kind of used to it, which is good I guess," Miller said Thursday. "It's feeling a lot better, so it's good."
The offensive line has given up 29 total sacks this season, which is tied for eighth-most in the NFL. Keeping Carr upright has been difficult, but it doesn't fall solely on Miller. The former UCLA Bruin has one penalty this year for holding, and for the most part has done well against some of the best edge rushers in the league. Miller is looking at the negatives as a positive though, embracing the adversity in an effort to improve.
"I think it's just a good test for us to see how much we attack the day, every day, and how we attack practice," Miller said. "I think that tells a lot about you, and how much you want to compete."
Head Coach Jon Gruden stated recently that he wants to instill a mentality that's reminiscent of the Raiders of old, and Miller believes the team will get there with time.
"I mean it's happening, you get young players to play, and especially if we build and respond to this season I think it definitely puts us in the right path moving forward," Miller said.
Gruden is trying to breed gritty, tough, physical players going forward, and Miller is proving that he fits the mold. This Sunday in Arizona he'll be tasked with stopping the likes of Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones; we'll see how he fares.