The Breakdown: Kolton Miller’s First Start Analyzed

The Breakdown Chris Reed Silver and Black Today

The Raiders shocked the 2018 NFL Draft when they drafted UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller in the first round. One game in, it looks to have been a wise pick.

“Nerve-racking” may be the aptest description of any rookie’s first professional start. For Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller, the challenge is exacerbated by the sheer quality of his opposition. Facing the vaunted Los Angeles Rams defensive line in his first pro game turned into baptism by fire.

Let’s jump into the film and see how the young linemen held up in the face of such adversity.

Pass Protection

The Rams have the best interior line combination in the NFL with defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh and were naturally the main focus of the Raiders offensive line. This put Miller on an island quite often and he handled it very well. Like any player, every rep wasn’t perfect, but Miller showed every bit of the talent that made him the 15th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

All plays highlighted above are from the fourth quarter with the Raiders trailing. Obvious passing situations give the best opportunities to focus on an offensive lineman’s pass protection as the defender is in full rush mode. In the first play, Miller shows off his improved footwork and anchors to take on the attempted bull rush. He does need to try to keep his hands inside more to avoid holding calls. Left guard Kelechi Osemele looks for work after passing off the defensive tackle to center Rodney Hudson.

As we will talk about in a moment, Miller and Osemele will need to continue to solidify their communication and teamwork. Having an elite talent like Hudson in the middle of the line will give Osemele opportunities like this to give the rookie some inside protection.

The second play is a reminder that Miller still has work to do. At 6-foot-8, Miller’s length is a double edge sword allowing him the length to keep defenders off his chest but also giving them opportunities to get under his pads. Kolton does show some natural bend to his technique and will need to continue to refine it.

Picking up the “game” in the third clip is more about the chemistry between Miller and Osemele than pure physical skill. The guard and tackle must communicate and react to the opposing team’s stunt packages. Here Miller passes the defensive end off and shows the awareness and football intelligence to process information at a fast pace.

Offensive line rules regarding a blocking assignment crossing him are to look for work starting with the side the assignment went to. The most likely cause of the defender leaving his gap is a line stunt. Miller recognizes and picks up the defensive tackle, forcing him wide on his stunt. Veteran players are fooled by stunts every week in the NFL so the Raiders have to be thrilled to see their rookie looking so natural at picking them up.

“I know he (Miller) gained the respect of the Rams players that he went against last week,” Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said after practice Thursday. “You listen to the Bronco’s players this week, and I think they gained a level of respect for him, in an opening game for a rookie. We like the direction he is going. Again, he’s a young player, we still think the ceiling’s very high with him. We were very happy with how he came out of that game.”

Run Blocking

As a team, the Raiders rushed for only 95 yards in a game that they clearly had hoped to control on the ground. They did not have a run of over 20 yards and only had two go over 10 yards. Averaging 4.1 yards per carry seems to indicate that they may have had a better game if they had more carries. They had opportunities that should start to break as the season goes on.

Here, the pre-snap motion has the left defensive tackle shift from a 6 technique down to 4i. This changes the geometry of right tackle Donald Penn’s block. He is now forced to “reach” block the tackle which prevents him from fully anchoring and walling off the back side. Another second would have sprung running back Marshawn Lynch to the third level. As they get more practice and game reps under their belt these runs will break for Oakland.

Kolton Miller’s highlight from his run blocking was his first professional pancake. It isn’t always about simply overpowering your man. Miller uses the defensive ends momentum against him and drives him into the infield dirt. Hopefully playing next to a guy as aggressive as Osemele will rub off on the soft-spoken rookie and he develops the same nasty streak.

As unpopular as Kolton Miller’s selection was with fans, the Raiders look like they really hit on a solid player to man the left tackle position. If Miller continues his current assent trajectory, he will be, at worst, a solid starter. Because offensive linemen do not generate stats, fans can have a hard time quantifying their value or performance. Miller won’t get the direct credit but he will be responsible, in part, if quarterback Derek Carr regains his previous MVP form over the next few seasons.