Raiders' first-round pick Kolton Miller playing through the pain, pressure

Offensive lineman Kolton Miller has endured injury and insult during his rookie season and impressed his teammates in the process. James Chance/Getty Images

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Yes, there is a figurative target on the back of Kolton Miller, the rookie left tackle's standing as the Oakland Raiders' first-round draft pick providing plenty of fodder 10 games into his NFL career.

The literal target? That would be the 6-feet-8, 309-pounder's right knee, which has not been right since he suffered an MCL sprain on Sept. 30 against the Cleveland Browns.

Then he did it again at the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 1.

It got rolled up on again Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals.

"He's got really good inner strength, mental strength, mental toughness. He's a tough guy and he's showing it right now." Jon Gruden on Kolton Miller

Miller has played through it all, not missing a game, even though he also hyperextended his right elbow last month and has been playing since with a bulky brace.

"It says a lot about him," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of Miller. "It's one thing to go out there and play hurt. It's another thing to go out there and play winning football when you're hurt. Not many guys can do that. Not many young guys, especially.

"That's why we made him our first-round pick. He's got really good inner strength, mental strength, mental toughness. He's a tough guy and he's showing it right now."

Now, it has not been all wine and roses for Miller, the No. 15 overall pick of the 2018 draft out of UCLA. He has had his struggles for a struggling team that just beat the Cardinals to improve to 2-8 and figures to be in the running for a top-3 selection next spring.

Because as Pro Football Focus noted through Week 10, Miller had surrendered the most sacks (10) and the second-most total pressures (39) of any NFL offensive lineman.

Granted, he's been playing basically on one leg and with one arm. But he is not using either as an excuse.

As Miller put it, if he is healthy enough to suit up, start and play, he is healthy enough to produce. Yes, even as a banged-up rookie charged with protecting quarterback Derek Carr's blind side.

"It makes it tougher playing on it but I guess when you have sort of the same injury every other week, you sort of get used to it," Miller said Monday.

"I feel like I have to prove myself to the organization, give back to them. But yeah, I want to make proud the guys that selected me."

The Raiders using their first pick on Miller raised more than a few eyebrows in Oakland, especially those belonging to Donald Penn. The three-time Pro Bowler was returning from a Lisfranc injury to his right foot and many assumed that while Miller would be Penn's eventual replacement, the rookie would begin his career at right tackle.

Instead, with Penn's recovery taking longer than expected and starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, Miller was inserted at left tackle and Penn, when he was healthy, was flipped to the right side.

Penn, though, suffered a groin injury against the Browns and has been on IR since, while Miller has been able to play through his ailments, while facing opponents' best pass-rushers.

"For him to do 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," Carr said. "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 ... to see him continually just keep the same look on his face, continue to work, continue to come out here braced up ... just to practice, that says a lot about who he is. I'm very excited that we have him."

Besides Miller and Penn being banged up, left guard Kelechi Osemele also missed three games with a knee injury, backup interior lineman Jonathan Feliciano had sore ribs and rookie right tackle Brandon Parker has also been dinged up.

Right guard Gabe Jackson said that while every young player experiences growing pains, Miller's response is what intrigues the O-line.

"He's listening and taking to the coaching and making corrections on things he's made mistakes on, like everybody should do," Jackson said. "He's always trying to find a way to better himself and get ready for the job.

"Especially being an offensive lineman, you have to be tough. If you're not tough, you won't stay around as long as tough ones do. But he's definitely proven he's tough and he's only going to get better with time. You can definitely see it, and all the potential that's there, he's going to be a stud."

As well as a foundation piece for the Raiders in their latest reconstruction project, less than two years before they head to Las Vegas.

But before then, Miller will keep on keeping on, experiencing the good and the bad as Gruden's first first-rounder in his second stint in Oakland.

"I'm grateful for that," Miller said of being a high pick. "That's why I want to kind of push through it and do it for these guys, for the organization."

Which means playing through the pain.

"You hear about it but I guess living it is interesting," Miller said. "But yeah, you just sort of have to accept it. It has been getting a little bit easier, which is a good thing."