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.