ALAMEDA, Calif. — The rookies did what they could.
Kolton Miller dealt with multiple injuries in 2018, including three sprains to the same knee. At times, athletic trainers furbished him for the field like a mummy, a white wrap and black brace over his right knee with a white wrap and black brace over his right elbow. He started all 16 games at left tackle.
The Raiders hoped to avoid Brandon Parker starting any. But he made the jump from North Carolina A&T to the NFL without a safety cable, making the final 12 starts following a September injury to right tackle Donald Penn.
This year, Miller and Parker are doing what they can.
Miller, a first-round pick, and Parker, a third-round choice, worked to make developmental strides before their second season. Coach Jon Gruden seems satisfied with the early results. A stronger, heavier Miller remains entrenched at left tackle while Parker works this spring to become a versatile backup.
Miller changed jerseys from No. 77 to 74.
That’s the only part he pared down.
After measuring 309 pounds at the combine on Feb. 28, 2018, Miller is at 328 pounds now, he said Tuesday. He credits the growth to training in the Sacramento area while eating “the right” food at a high volume. There also was no combine to attend, so the veteran could concentrate on his game rather than prepare for drills like the 40-yard dash.
Miller, 23, began packing on weight last year. These efforts will continue in the coming months.
“I know that I have a job to do,” Miller said, “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. … (Last year’s experience) will help tremendously. I think the knowledge of how to deal with those injuries helped. I think the game experience helped, and now that I’m stronger, I think I’ll be a lot better.”
Miller has impressed the Raiders with his mental makeup.
He carries himself with a quiet professionalism, focused on the steps necessary to tap into his athletic upside. Gruden said that he believes Miller is “going to be one of the best at left tackles in football,” although he added that Miller’s performance will be influenced by whomever is beside him at left guard.
Denzelle Good currently occupies that role.
The club could add someone in free agency to compete. One candidate, Richie Incognito, visited this month.
“He looks great,” quarterback Derek Carr said of Miller. “Not being weird, but the man looks like he’s ready. He’s 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, and then when he got hurt, he never missed a practice, never missed a rep in practice.
“If coach said he had to get out, he said ‘No coach, I’m good.’ I knew right then and there, this guy is going to do whatever it takes next year to come in and be better. I’ve seen nothing but that from him, someone that is just gritty.”
How Parker performed in 2018 when thrown in the fire won’t define his NFL career.
It’s how he responds to the burns.
Like Miller, Parker took his lumps. His were more mental, as he struggled in a manner to which he was unaccustomed at the college and youth levels. One miscue against the San Francisco 49ers produced more and led to a benching. One sack in Baltimore prompted two more on consecutive plays.
He had an offseason to reflect and grow.
Gruden said that Parker spent a portion of it living with Raiders right guard Gabe Jackson in Mississippi. This figures to benefit Parker, who is slated to serve as the Raiders’ swing tackle, backing up Miller and Trent Brown. Parker took reps at both left and right tackle on Tuesday during the first practice of organized team activities.
“I don’t think they were just lifting weights,” Gruden said of Parker and Jackson. “They might have been eating pretty good down there. Parker came back married. He came back stronger. He came back heavier. We’re going to give him an opportunity to get on the field. He may end up being the left guard — who knows? He may end up starting somewhere down the road again.”