The biggest free agent addition this year for the Raiders, both literally and figuratively was Trent Brown. The 6-8, 380-pounder is being touted as arguably the league’s top right tackle after a season in which he went on to win the Super Bowl as the Patriots’ starting left tackle and then become the highest paid tackle in the league while being moved to the right side, where typically the lesser of the team’s tackles lines up.
If he is to live up to that billing, he won’t be able to ease into it because arguably the league’s top pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are coming to town Monday night. Brown certainly has a fan in Von Miller.
“He’s one of the best tackles in the game. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or left,” Miller said of Brown. “I’ve been a huge fan of Trent for a long time. I love the guy. He knows how much I love him. It’s going to be a tough challenge. He’s one of the best. He’s tall, he’s big, he’s quick. They definitely got better in the offensive line room with Trent Brown over there.”
Brown and Von Miller are great friends. The big tackle has attended Von’s pass rush summit a couple times and helped impart some advice to Von’s pupils on how to beat various tackles in the league. So, there may be some bias there.
Recently ESPN’s Louis Riddick took that opinion of Brown and ran with it as gospel, calling Brown the best tackle in football regardless of side. But even the opinion that Brown is the league’s best right tackle is a rather new one. It was just a year ago, that the 49ers traded him to New England for a swap of mid round picks. Then an injury at left tackle moved Brown from right to left side. He had an up and down regular season and a stellar postseason mostly benefitting from protecting Tom Brady who is known to get the ball out quickly in the Patriots offensive system.
On the left side for the Raiders is 2018 first round pick Kolton Miller. He returns as the starter after a rough rookie season but in some ways he is new as well. Not only do you expect a jump from year one to year two, but Miller was injured most of his rookie season so we still don’t know what kind of talent he can be.
The moral here is we don’t yet know for sure what the Raiders have in their two tackles. But we may not have to wait long to find out. They will see probably their toughest test right away when they face off against Broncos pass rush duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on Monday night.
Last season Derek Carr was sacked 51 times with 30 of those coming through the two tackle spots. Luckily for him, Brandon Parker is no longer at right tackle, but Kolton Miller is still at left tackle. He will have put a lot of trust in Miller’s improvement and Brown as an upgrade against the Broncos elite duo.
“I think they contrast each other really well,” Carr said of the two Denver pass rushers. “Von, I say it every time, he’s a walking Hall of Famer. . . The guy has the franchise record in sacks. The guy continues to look like he gets faster every year. The guy literally takes the ball out of people’s hands, me included. He does freaky stuff on the field and you have to respect it. You have to tip your cap and love competing against that, and then with Chubb he’s obviously going into his second year. He’s a power rush kind of guy. He wants to get his hands on people and like I said they complement each other really well. It reminds me of when they had Von and DeMarcus [Ware], they complemented each other so well at their rush patterns and things like that. I see a lot of similarities there with these guys.”
Chubb got off to a spectacular start to his NFL career. Even some of the league’s best pass rushers struggle their first year. Not Chubb, who put up 12.0 sacks as a rookie. And the former 5th overall pick still has the second year leap to make.
“Bradley Chubb, he’s a totally different player,” said Von Miller. “He’s going to have a huge jump, just like all big-time pass rushers or big-time rookies. Whenever they come in, like Khalil Mack, he had a huge jump going 1 to 2. Joey Bosa, he was hurt most of the time, but most of these defensive guys when they come in they have OK years the first year and then they make a huge jump going from Year 1 to 2. I see the same thing working with Chubb. He’s done a lot this offseason to get better, on the field and off the field. He’s going to be a totally different player, he’s just going to be wearing the same number.”
Between Chubb’s 12.0 sacks and Von Miller’s 14.5 sacks last season, it’s a pick your poison situation. Most teams you’ll have one elite pass rusher, so it’s a question of who is getting that assignment on any given down. Against the Broncos it won’t matter. They may switch sides now and then, but that won’t mean anyone gets a break.
For this offense to function the way Gruden wants it to, Carr will need to connect with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams on the deep ball. To do that, he needs time. And most importantly he needs to feel comfortable which requires trust in his tackles. Clean slate this season. Protecting him against the best in the opener could go a long way this season.