The talk this week for the Raiders is how they are going to prepare to stop the Tom Brady to Wes Welker connection, the most potent quarterback to receiver combo in the NFL. That preparation intensified this week after Welker’s astounding 16 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns last week. The Raiders’ answer? Nick Miller.
Miller has been acting Wes Welker in practices this week. The Raiders hope there are enough similarities to get them ready for the All Pro receiver.
“Just doing what I can,” said Miller. “Getting the defense ready, giving them the best look. I’m a little white guy so I kind of got thrown into it. No, I’m just trying to give them the best look and get them ready and remake a little about how he plays.”
“They got me in the slot, doing little option routes, quick routes. Basically getting them ready for what he does. He’s a little shifty, real smart player. Basically just having me get open, giving me the basis of a route, and tell me to get open and telling the defense to guard me. They did a good job this week so I think they’ll be ready.”
Miller drew comparisons to Welker early on when the Raiders signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Utah. He was known for being a punt return specialist in college but flashed some receiver skills in camp and preseason as a rookie.
Aside from being a “little white guy,” he actually fits the role in his skillset.
“Welker is a hard guy to mimic,” says Demarcus Van Dyke. “He’s one of the best at what he does. We have Nick Miller giving us his best shot… He does a pretty good job of mimicking Welker so hopefully we’ll see Sunday how good he got it.”
This isn’t Miller’s first time playing the role of the opposition’s most potent receiver. Last week he posed as Santonio Holmes in the Jets’ offense. That appeared to work pretty well as Holmes had just one catch in the game. But while Holmes’ play may have been more a product of solid coverage from Routt, Welker presents a whole new set of problems. Namely, who is going to cover him?
It is not known for certain who will be given the task of defending Welker. The players don’t want to give it away. However, Stanford Routt says he will be playing at left corner, Chimdi Chekwa says he will be playing right corner, and Van Dyke says he is the “emergency guy” for covering the slot receiver.
At safety, Michael Huff was not practicing again on Friday. He practiced on Wednesday and was on the field on Thursday, but Hue Jackson officially said he did not participate. He suffered a concussion in the game last week against the Jets, so the official DNP announcement suggests he didn’t pass a concussion test. Huff is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, but typically players who don’t practice on Friday don’t play on Sunday. According to Hue, there will be further tests prior to the game on Sunday to know for certain.
Mike Mitchell is back from injury for the first time this season, but he is known for his prowess covering tight ends, so his duties will consist primarily of keeping Rob Gronkowski under wraps.
If Huff can’t go, it appears the job of covering Welker could fall to Tyvon Branch. Routt played the slot early in his Raider career, but he has not strayed from his left corner duties since becoming the fulltime starter.
Nick Miller will not be returning punts for the time being but for now, he is performing a valuable function for the Raiders. If the Raiders can slow down the Brady/Welker connection, we’ll know just how valuable that function is.