Many Oakland Raiders fans have been waiting over a year to see what Nick Miller has to offer. Miller, who played college ball at Southern Utah, was signed by the Raiders as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2009 season.
However, due to an injury in the preseason, the Raiders decided to put Miller on the injured reserve list for the 2009 season. This was a surprising decision; not often is an undrafted free agent deemed valuable enough to be placed on the injured reserve list. By doing this, the Raiders were essentially saying that they were worried that if they didn't, Miller was going to be signed by another team.
Regardless of the fact that he had never played a real down of football in the NFL, the Raiders were willing to wait an entire year for him to heal in order to give him another shot. We saw the Raiders do this with Michael Bush, but Bush was once considered an early first-round pick before suffering an injury his senior year and the Raiders knew he might miss much of his rookie year when they drafted him.
Raiders fans were given their first glimpse of what the coaching staff had seen in Miller this preseason. Miller impressed both in the return game and at the wide receiver position, but despite his performance, he did not even see the field during the first four games of the season.
Not only did Miller not play, he found himself starting the season buried in the depth chart at the position he was signed to compete for: kick returner. Both Yamon Figurs and Johnny Lee-Higgins found themselves ahead of Miller for the punt return position.
This however, did not faze Miller, he is used to being the underdog. Miller started his collegiate career at Scottsdale Community College before transferring to Southern Utah. At Southern Utah, Miller overcame the stigma of playing for a small school and impressed enough to be signed to an NFL roster.
On Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, Miller overcame yet another obstacle by taking the punt return job from Johnny Lee-Higgins. In a game where special teams play ruled the day, Miller took his first punt return 46 yards and affirmed Tom Cable's decision to start him over Higgins.
Higgins is not the first casualty at the position; he followed Yamon Figurs as the second player to lose the job as punt returner. Unlike Figurs, Higgins kept his spot on the team. Aside from punt returns, Higgins is the slot receiver.
Miller's performance in the preseason as well as in Sunday's game against the Chargers has begged the question: should he be given an opportunity to start at the slot receiver position?
Besides the offensive line, the wide receiver position is one of the Raiders biggest concerns. Darrius Heyward-Bey has greatly improved and Louis Murphy is building on his success last season, but beyond those two, no one has shown themselves to be a reliable third option.
One of the reasons that the Oakland Raiders pass game has struggled is because the offensive line is unable to hold protection long enough for deeper routes to develop. The result is often sacks or check downs for short gains. Miller has the tools to succeed in an offense where the ball needs to get out immediately.
Miller is a quick, small receiver who is capable of making defenders miss. If Hue Jackson gets creative, he will be able to use a weapon like Miller to get defenses to respect the pass and open up the run game more.
Miller is the type of guy that you want to get the ball with space. Give Miller a little room and he can make defenders miss and turn small plays into big ones. If Jackson were to add some wide receiver screens, end-arounds and more quick slants, it would give Miller an opportunity to do what he does best while adding a passing threat with little to no threat of turnovers or sacks.
While the starting spot at the slot position might be a little ways off for Miller, one thing is for certain, Cable and Jackson need to find a way to get this guy involved in the offense. He has proven that he has the abilities to play in this league; now lets see if he can defy even more expectations by doing more than just return kicks.
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