Doug Williams

Melifonwu's Return to Field a Good First Step

Second-year safety will need to get plenty of practice time, after injuries last season, to show new coaching staff that he can be a contributor

Recently, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden sent a message to second-year safety Obi Melifonwu.

During the first round of organized team activities (OTAs), Melifonwu, who lost much of his rookie season to injury, couldn’t participate fully in practices because of his rehab, and Gruden didn’t seem pleased.

“He doesn’t look close to me at all,” Gruden told reporters. “I’ll leave it at that. He doesn’t look close to me at all.”

Shortly after taking the Raiders’ head coaching position, Gruden had said he wanted to get more out of the Raiders’ injured players in 2017, such as top draft picks Gareon Conley and Melifonwu. While Conley was back healthy and fit for the first round of OTAs, Melifonwu was on a slow track.

“Haven’t seen much of Obi, except in the training room,” said Gruden.

But that’s changed this week in the second round of OTAs.

Melifonwu was a participant on the field this week, getting reps at safety. He’ll need to get those reps through this spring and through training camp to make a push to earn playing time in 2018. It will be a challenge. Melifonwu is listed No. 2 on the depth chart at strong safety, behind Karl Joseph. Reggie Nelson is the veteran starter at free safety.

If Melifonwu can stay healthy and show the coaching staff what he can do, he could provide a boost.

New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, for one, was a big fan on Melifonwu’s when he was coming out of Connecticut for the 2017 draft.

“Obi is a big guy that when you turn on the tape, you’re like, ‘Man, who is this son of a gun?’ ” Guenther said earlier this offseason. “He’s playing half field, he’s down in the box playing the run.”

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