Finally, Gareon Conley is ready to play some football.
When the Raiders selected the outstanding Ohio State cornerback in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, they believed they were getting a young player capable of becoming an elite pass defender.
“He’s the type of corner you look for,” said general manager Reggie McKenzie at the time. “It’s hard to get separation from him. He can play the deep ball, he can press, he’s big and strong and fast and he understands the game. Watching his tape and being around him in interviews, we had no question about his skill set and ability to play the game.”
But as a rookie, Conley played just 92 regular-season snaps because of a shin injury. The Raiders desperately needed him in the secondary, yet couldn’t find out if Conley is the player they believe he will be. Then a new coaching staff was put in place, led by Jon Gruden, and Gruden said he needed Conley to heal and play.
Now, this week as the Raiders go through their mandatory full-squad minicamp, Conley is healthy and fit and starting to show what he can do. Gruden likes what he sees.
“It’s been a dark world that he’s been in, this young man,” Gruden told Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He had a terrible injury he had to rehab from. He’s had to change coaches, learn a new system. It’s been a slow, steady process. But man, he is a good player. And when he’s feeling good, you can see why we picked him No. 1.”
Conley right now appears ready to start in 2018 at one corner opposite veteran Rashaan Melvin, the former Colts starter who signed with Oakland as a free agent.
Conley told Kawahara he’s had time to recover from the shin injury and feels fit and healthy.
“I feel like I’m back,” he said.
Conley is also absorbing the new defensive scheme of coordinator Paul Guenther. He believes it plays to his strengths.
“I feel like it suits me well,” said Conley. “We play press (coverage) a lot, just like I did in college. That’s basically the defense for the corner. Play press man, lock your man down.”
After this week, Conley and the Raiders will get about a month off before gathering again for the start of training camp in July.