On Saturday night, Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack walked past the film room at the Raiders facility and saw rookie cornerback Gareon Conley studying the offense of the New York Jets.
“Just seeing that, I knew he was going to come out ready,” Mack told Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Conley, the Raiders’ No. 1 draft pick this spring, didn’t play in the season opener Sept. 10 vs. the Titans or in any of Oakland’s four exhibition games. So when he finally took the field Sunday against the Jets in the Raiders’ home opener, coaches, teammates and fans were eager to see how the newcomer from Ohio State would fare.
The answer: Conley was just fine.
With Sean Smith out with an injury, Conley played as the team’s No. 3 cornerback and graded very well, according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus. Conley allowed just one catch for eight yards on two passes thrown in his direction.
PFF’s Rob Hamilton said it was “a very encouraging debut.”
“He especially showed off his ball skills on a defensed pass where he almost forced an interception,” wrote Hamilton. “He’s a welcome addition to an Oakland secondary which has been a weakness for a potential Super Bowl contender.”
As Kroichick noted, Jets cornerback Josh McCown tested Conley early, trying to target wide receiver Jermaine Kearse on a deep ball. Conley had Kearse covered and knocked the ball away.
Conley figures to get playing time again in Week 3, when the 2-0 Raiders take on 1-1 Washington Sunday night in a game set to kick off at 5:30 p.m.
Some solid play by Conley could be a huge boost for the secondary. Certainly, Conley showed at Ohio State that he can be a defensive difference-maker. In his final season for the Buckeyes, Conley gave up just 14 receptions for 159 yards and allowed a passer rating of 14.0 when quarterbacks threw in his direction.
After Sunday’s game, Conley went to Twitter to express his happiness at finally playing and being able to contribute to a victory.
Tweeted Conley: “Got the dub feel good to finally play s/o to my teammates and the real #raidernation that sent positive vibes preciate that.”