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.

Raiders DC Paul Guenther talks Khalil Mack, Gareon Conley and more


Raiders DC Paul Guenther talks Khalil Mack, Gareon Conley and more

Paul Guenther hasn’t been Raiders defensive coordinator long. He has been in Alameda about a week now, interviewing potential position coaches and pouring over last year’s game tape.

He has some initial impressions on the group that struggled at the start and improved throughout the year. Generally speaking, however, Guenther sees talent on the roster.

“I believe there’s a lot of good players here, a lot of good, young players,” Guenther said Wednesday in a conference call. “You’ve got to get them out and develop them and get them to understand your system. But I think there are a lot of good pieces here for a foundation, for sure.”

Guenther’s system, where it came from and why he brought it to Oakland is a story for another day. Thursday morning, to be precise, so stay tuned for that.

Guenther’s early evaluation of key Raiders, however, supports his statement about a strong foundation. He is most excited, as you’d expect, about working with edge rusher Khalil Mack and several others in silver and black.

Here’s what Guenther said about…

-- DE KHALIL MACK: “Having a talent like that and ability of a guy like that, certainly you want to make it the centerpiece of the defense. We have to continue to develop our younger players to bring those guys up to speed and add people as we go through the draft and free agency. He’s a guy that you can really build a foundation through and around. He’s an exciting guy to be able to coach for sure.”

-- CB GAREON CONLEY: “He was my favorite corner coming out. His ability, he’s smooth in the pedal, he’s a good press corner, which we love to have. I’m excited to work with him.”

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

-- LB NAVORRO BOWMAN: (an impending free agent): “NaVorro is a prototype middle linebacker, really. The thing that impressed me most with NaVorro is that they got him here midseason and by the end of the year, it appeared to me that he was kind of the leader of the unit, making a lot of calls. You can see that on tape. It looks like he is a smart guy that understands the game. I love smart guys that love playing football. Hopefully we can get him back in the fold and keep him a Raider.”

Raiders OC believes Raiders will 'grow as Derek Carr grows'


Raiders OC believes Raiders will 'grow as Derek Carr grows'

Quarterback Derek Carr’s stage is set for a giant step forward.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson thinks it happened the moment Jon Gruden became Raiders head coach, though not solely due to the mentor and his proven offensive system. It’s also the 10-year contract formally bringing him back. There’s no telling whether Gruden mans his post a full decade, but an extended stretch is guaranteed.

That in itself, Olson, says, is invaluable to a passer entering his fifth season with a fourth head coach and third offensive scheme.

“Probably more so than anything,” Olson said, “this guy has to get some continuity.”

Gruden will provide that, with Olson a link to Carr’s past. Olson was Raiders offensive coordinator from 2013-14, and guided Carr’s rookie campaign. Quarterback and coordinator worked well together a 3-13 season where the Fresno State alum started every game.

They’ll reunite under Gruden and stick together this time. Olson, after all, signed a four-year deal that’s double the industry standard.

“Derek is going to be in a system now,” Olson said Wednesday in a conference call with local media. “He’s going to be coached by a head coach that’s going to be the play caller. That’s the first time Derek will have an offensive head coach that has a quarterback background and will be hands on with him on a day-to-day basis. I just see that growth curve skyrocketing because of that.”

Carr’s trajectory went straight up from his rookie season with Olson through the next two years – he was a legit MVP candidate in 2016 -- though it markedly dipped during a disappointing 6-10 campaign.

Gruden and Olson are generally charged with fixing an offense with talent but little production last year, though their primary objective remains more specific.

Get Carr back on track.

“Everything we do in this building is going to be about the development of Derek Carr,” Olson said. “The way we script practices, the way we are doing drills, everything that we do is all about the development of the quarterback. That will really speed the development of Derek. More so than anything is that there’s somebody here in place that’s going to make everything that we do and that everyone in the building understand that we grow as Derek Carr grows.”

Olson knows first-hand about Carr’s work ethic and acumen. He has seen athleticism, passing accuracy and a quick release turn football smarts into production. He told Gruden all that following the 2014 season, and believes Carr’s presence was an attraction to take the Raiders job.

“We drafted this guy to be that franchise quarterback," Olson said. "We feel like he has the potential to be that guy that can be here and play for 10 more years. It’s up to us to try and get that out of him. We’ll do everything in our power to make sure that that happens."