Raiders' Secondary Picks to Play Primary Roles

Norton and Pagano say cornerback Conley and safety Melifonwu are making a strong impression in OTAs

The Raiders’ top two draft choices, cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu, are making great impressions in organized team activities (OTAs).

Conley, the 6-foot first-rounder from Ohio State, and Melifonwu, the 6-foot-4 second-rounder from Connecticut, both figure to make impacts as rookies. Conley could start opposite Sean Smith or work as the nickel corner; Melifonwu is likely to back up starting free safety Reggie Nelson or earn time in a special hybrid role.

In Tuesday’s OTAs, both were working with the first defensive unit’s sub package, with Conley in the slot and Melifonwu playing close to the line as a combination linebacker/safety.

“Those guys are good,” said defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. “Really good football players. Glad they’re on our team. Long, fast, they love the ball. They love practicing. They chase well. They’re always trying to improve and they’ve done a great job of understanding our system, understanding what we’re trying to teach them. They’re very good learners.”

Assistant head coach John Pagano indicated Melifonwu could help the Raiders in tight-end coverage – a weakness last season – in his special hybrid role.

Like Norton, Pagano likes what he’s seen of Conley and Melifonwu and is certain they will make the defense better than it was in 2016.

“The best thing that you can do to a group is bring in competition,” Pagano told reporters Tuesday. “Any type of more depth you have, the more competition you have, the better it always makes you. That, I think, has been a real positive.

“They’re young. They’re still rookies. They’re still trying to find their way around and making sure they’re getting lined up OK. Other than that, they’re really detailed and you can see (that). The one thing that always stands out first and foremost is the athletic ability of both of them. They’re great athletes.”

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