NAPA, Calif. — The question hung in the sun-pierced air, a news conference turned quiet as Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller looked at a Bay Area reporter who inquired Sunday if Miller believes he is too nice and whether he has an edge to him.
Miller gave a prolonged glare, prompting laughter.
Seconds passed. More silence.
“Oh,” he said. “Am I supposed to answer that?”
There is no question as to whether Miller is physically stronger entering his second NFL season, having devoted much of his offseason to that pursuit. He also appears more confident and comfortable following a rookie year in which he played through injuries. The combination of strength and assurance could allow Miller to insert more nastiness into his game.
Miller believes so.
A personality change is no prerequisite.
“Second years have been a lot better for me,” Miller said. “Usually, I like to focus extremely on technique. In that respect, I think this year, with adding experience, you feel a lot more confident. That eventually translates to more finishes. People think what they want; they try to figure people out. But it’s all part of the process for me, just being more confident in my game. That (leads) to finishing and being more nasty.”
The Raiders drafted Miller in the first round out of UCLA.
His physical tools contributed to their interest, Miller among the standouts at the NFL combine. But over the ensuing months, the franchise learned more about his mental makeup when recurring injuries tested his toughness.
In Week 4 last September, late in the first half against the Cleveland Browns, Miller suffered a Grade II MCL sprain in his right knee. It would be the first of three sprains to that knee during the campaign. Quarterback Derek Carr noticed Miller on the ground.
“Derek was like, ‘Get up!’ and that was it for me,” Miller said. “I was like, ‘We are going to finish this series.’ Taped it up, and finished the game out.”
Miller started all 16 games.
In the first three, he allowed no sacks or quarterback hits, ceding five combined hurries against the Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, according to Pro Football Focus. His reduced movement naturally became a liability. The same stat service accounted 16 sacks allowed by season’s end.
The Raiders understood the context to Miller’s NFL debut.
He gave them what he had.
On Saturday, left guard Richie Incognito lauded Miller, complimenting his athleticism, attitude and work ethic. The four-time Pro Bowler added he hoped to “bring a little bit of that nasty edge to him, get him to come out of his shell a little bit.”
The comment prompted Sunday’s questioning toward Miller, who generally carries himself with an easygoing demeanor.
“Everyone has different personalities,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “You can look at a number of guys. Orlando Pace was not known as a nasty guy, but obviously, he’s a Hall of Fame player. Richie’s always going to bring a nastiness to the room in terms of his play, and that’s part of the appeal of signing him. … (Kolton) comes off as a polite guy, and that shouldn’t be held against him.
“His parents raised a terrific young man, but I think at every position it’s a physical game. Certainly, offensive linemen, when you’re hitting the person across from you every play, you have to have a mindset and a toughness when you strap on the helmet. He’s a tough football player, and guys show it different ways. You can’t assume that because he’s a quiet guy he’s not a tough football player.”
Following last year, there is no questioning Miller’s toughness.
The 23-year-old has shown commitment to his own development, exhibiting the sort of offseason approach that coach Jon Gruden hopes and expects from a second-year player.
“I just have to do right and really execute,” Miller said. “I think that’s the biggest thing: executing and adding that finish to my game. I think I’m there.”