Gareon Conley isn't sweating NFL debut: 'I'm used to pressure'


Gareon Conley isn't sweating NFL debut: 'I'm used to pressure'

ALAMEDA – Gareon Conley hasn’t played a football game since the Fiesta Bowl. That was New Year’s Eve last year, when Clemson shellacked his Ohio State Buckeyes.

More than nine crazy months have past since then. Game tape and pre-draft work made the cornerback a top-15 NFL draft talent. A sexual assault allegation sullied his name, but the Raiders stopped a possible draft free fall at No. 24 overall.

Then he suffered a shin injury in a June minicamp few knew about. Then he signed a professional contract a few days late. Good news came from an Ohio grand jury, which validated the Raiders’ selection and cleared his name. Conley still wasn’t all the way back.

That pesky injury kept him from running until Aug. 13, practicing until Aug. 29 and playing until…Sunday.

Conley will finally make his NFL debut against the New York Jets in the Raiders home opener. Conley’s thrilled a long, stressful wait has ended. He practiced fully twice this week and was given the green light Friday afternoon.

Conley's mother will be at Oakland Coliseum on Sunday afternoon to watch her boy play. This is a big moment, but the cornerback is ready. He won’t shrink.

“It’s always a big deal, but it’s not like it’s a bad thing,” Conley said. “It’s a good thing. I’m an athlete. I’m used to pressure. I’m ready to go out and play. The past three months I haven’t been doing anything. I can’t wait to be on the field with my teammates.”

It’s unclear how much he’ll play. Conley says he’s ready for any role, and it could be adjusted based on Sean Smith’s availability. The veteran cornerback is questionable with a neck injury.

Conley took significant reps in the slot during the offseason program, but primarily played outside at Ohio State. Head coach Jack Del Rio keeps roles and playing time proprietary, but is curious how Conley will fare in his first NFL action.

“We’re excited to get a look,” Del Rio said. “He’s obviously a talented young man. We really, really liked him coming out. He’s had a little bit of a setback because of some things that were beyond his control with the medical stuff. That’s cleaned up and he’s ready to roll now. Look forward to watching him play.”

Conley wanted to make his debut last week at Tennessee, but the Raiders kept him out and gave him a bit more time to prepare. The extra time gave player and team confidence in his readiness. Now he can just go play.

“It’s hard for me to sit out,” Conley said. “I was just relying on the trainers and coaches. We all worked together to get me back. It was important to make sure I was good when I came back.”

INJURY UPDATE: CB Sean Smith (neck), FB Jamize Olawale (quad) and DB Keith McGill were all considered questionable to play the Jets on the team’s official injury report. Everyone else who missed at least a portion of the practice week – Amari Cooper (knee) and Cory James (knee) – were taken off the injury report and will play.

Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018


Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018

The Raiders signed veteran running back Doug Martin on Thursday, prompting many to believe the move meant the end of Marshawn Lynch's time in Oakland.

But as it has been expected, Martin is just another piece to go along with Lynch in the Raiders' backfield. According to multiple national reports, Lynch will remain in Silver and Black this upcoming season. 

The news will become official when the Raiders pay Lynch his $1 million roster bonus on Sunday. 

“One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch. We’ll see what happens," Jon Gruden told Insider Scott Bair at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We have to take a look at the entire roster, but I’m counting on him. I’m counting on him being a big part of this football team.”

Lynch, 31, rushed for 891 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and scored seven touchdowns for the Raiders in 2017. 

New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'


New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'

Rashaan Melvin has the supreme confidence of a No. 1 cornerback, with none of the pedigree. Top cover men are often drafted high, paid well or both, with a steady ascent to elite status.

This undrafted talent bounced around the league without job security, trying and often failing to find NFL footing.

Melvin spent time with Tampa Bay, Miami, Baltimore, New England and Miami again before establishing himself in Indianapolis. The Colts gave him a real shot and he took advantage, evolving into the team’s top cornerback. Last year was Melvin’s best, but it didn’t provide a long-term contract despite a bull market for cover men.

Melvin signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Raiders on Friday, the type of prove-it deal that could establish a big payday down this time next year. The 28-year old doesn’t consider that pressure. Melvin knowns another big year's on the way, one that proves he's an elite cornerback

"I’m here to dominate the league," Melvin said Friday in a conference call. "It might be time for some new faces at the cornerback position. That’s my take on that. I’m excited for it.”

Melvin wouldn’t trade his long road for a conventional path, and believes experience both good and bad has prepared him for a pivotal season.

“I’ve been cut four times,” Melvin said. “I’ve been in four different locker rooms, and I was able to gain my teammates’ trust, my coaches’ trust and the organization’s trust as well. My confidence just grows over time. There are not a lot of players that can say they’ve been cut four times and end up in a situation where I’m at today. Like I said, it’s perfect timing. My work ethic, my style of play and the way I approach the game and the way I approach my job, my business, it speaks for itself.”

Melvin’s work ethic is unquestioned. His reputation as a grinder is well documented, especially after establishing himself in Indianapolis. Commitment to a craft has created a player with consistent coverage and ball skills.

Melvin was excellent last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Melvin created an incomplete pass (combining passes defensed and interceptions) on 23.6 percent of his targets.

Passers had a 60.3 passer rating against him in 2017, with just 29 completions for 328 yards on 55 targets. The passer rating was 86.6 in 2016, his only other season as a regular starter.

The Raiders need that type of player on the outside. They’ve had inconsistent cornerback play (that’s being kind) in recent seasons, and are hoping Melvin provides stability at a key position. The Northern Illinois alum has loftier aspirations, individually and as the leader of a young position group.

“The goal is to be the best player I can be, first-team All-Pro,” Melvin said. “I’m going to show my leadership, help these young guys out this year. They have tons of potential to be successful in their own careers. For me coming in here and being the leader and showing that, hey, this is what it takes to be successful in this football league, that’s what I’m willing to do. That’s what I’m willing to bring to the table. On the football field, but outside as well.”

Paying $6.5 million for all that would be a bargain. Melvin’s the key acquisition in a secondary built around 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph and 2017 first-round cornerback Gareon Conley. This secondary can be solid if those guys can realize potential and Melvin’s a true No. 1 cornerback.

He considers that title appropriate, and is ready to show he’s more that a one-year wonder. The Raiders have great confidence in Melvin, something clear after targeting him early in the free-agent process. Financing’s always a big factor, but Friday’s meeting with head coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley convinced Melvin that Oakland’s a proper fit.

“I can relate to these guys,” Melvin said. “They have big plans for me, big plans for the organization. I was born to be a part of something special; that’s happening in Oakland. It was a good thing. We were able to get everything done, a deal done. I’m just excited to be here and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us as a team and me as a player.”