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 expect Lynch ruling soon; 'it would be the fairest thing'


Raiders expect Lynch ruling soon; 'it would be the fairest thing'

Running back Marshawn Lynch formally appealed his one-game suspension on Monday afternoon.

The Raiders hope to hear a ruling by Tuesday.

“I think we expect to hear something early in the week, hopefully by tomorrow,” head coach Jack Del Rio said in a Monday press conference. “(It) would be the fairest thing so that the team can prepare.”

That’s the expectation, according to an ESPN report. The Raiders should know by Tuesday whether Lynch’s suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct will stand.

The suspension stems from a Thursday night incident where he left the sidelines to join an on-field fracas involving Raiders offensive linemen and Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters. The third-year pro was penalized for a late hit on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr his linemen didn’t take kindly.

Peters and Lynch are extremely close friends and Oakland natives, and Lynch instinctively went out to protect someone he views as family. He inadvertently grabbed an official by the jersey and let go shortly after. He was flagged and ejected by rule.

He missed most of Thursday’s 31-30 victory over the Chiefs, and the NFL suspended him one game without pay on Friday. That could cost Lynch a $79,411 game check and a $31,250 per-game roster bonus.

ESPN reports that Peters by phone spoke at Lynch’s appeal hearing, where the running back’s team also cited precedent of others contacting an official without getting suspended. Leaving the sideline, however, may not help his appeal.

Del Rio said he hadn’t spoken with Lynch since the ejection.

“I said the other night I was disappointed that we had a player leave the bench,” Del Rio said. “It’s something we talk about – don’t leave the bench area.”

The Raiders ran with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington after Lynch’s ejection, and combined for 67 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The pair with shoulder a rushing load Sunday at Buffalo if Lynch is unavailable.

“They don’t have the size and the power but they have a little more quickness, they catch the ball a little easier, better route-runners, things like so,” Del Rio said. “So, if you’re playing a little more wide open, in some respects they give you a little more juice. Marshawn give you the power back when you want to finish people and in tough situations. Those guys give you more than a change of pace.”


Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs


Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs

Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has been creating steady separation for a few weeks now. That didn’t break him out of a prolonged slump.

Coaches were impressed by Cooper’s route running in a Week 5 loss to Baltimore. It only earned two targets and an eight-yard catch. They tried to find No. 89 more often in a Week 6 loss to the L.A. Chargers, though six targets generated five short catches for 28 yards.

Low production stretched through a four-game losing streak, with nine catches for 51 yards. Including stats from to early wins, Coopers season stats (18 catches, 146 yards and a touchdown) were worse than nearly 200 others.

Even that astonishment didn’t make Cooper demand the gosh darn football, please. The low-key Cooper attitude: The ball will find me.

It finally did in Thursday night’s 31-30 victory over Kansas City. Several times in fact.

Cooper had 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted 19 times. Nineteen. That’s no coincidence.

They moved him around, including significant snaps in the slot. He was targeted 11 times from that position, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, and produced six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

They schemed opportunities and quarterback Derek Carr used them to create big plays early.

Carr’s first pass went 12-yards to Cooper. His third was a 38-yard touchdown strike. His seventh was an in-stride delivery that Cooper took across and then up the field for a 45-yard score.

Just like that, Cooper was off and running for the first time this year.

“We put him in positions to make plays, obviously,” Carr said. “We knew that there were certain things that we liked. Nothing changed in his demeanor or his mentality or the way he worked or anything like that. We just stayed the course. We know what we have here and we know that if we just stay the course and work and grind through the tough times.

“…For ‘Coop’ to just continue to grind and get on the other side of it, I just felt good for him. You guys know Amari. I think we all felt good for him.”

Cooper said the early explosive touches provided confidence. Ability produced a signature performance. The Alabama product is excellent extending production with his legs, and had 78 of his yards come after the catch. That’s an average of 7.1 yards after the catch per reception, per PFF.

His second touchdown reached him 15 yards downfield, and he hit the jets and reached the end zone. He turned a short catch into 15 crucial yards to start the game-winning two-minute drill, and later high pointed a 39-yard receptions.

“The way he finished after the catch was really special,” Carr said. “Obviously, we all know he can go up and get a ball and all those things. That second touchdown where he cam across, the burst that he had, that’s freakish. Not a lot of guys have that. To turn the jets on like that and just out run the angles of the defense, that was really special. I think just after the catch he just played with some dog in him, which we know he has. We were able to get him the ball and let him shine and do what he does.”

Cooper’s showcase was vital to a huge victory that kept his team in the hunt. It also ended a rough month where Cooper and the Raiders both struggled. Veteran running mate Michael Crabtree was never concerned with the downturn and told the young receiver to stay the course during tough times.

“(I told him), ‘Just be you,’” Crabtree said. “It’s just about everything coming together. Coop’s a fighter, man. Coop has got skills. I don’t worry about Coop and I’m sure he doesn’t worry about me. That’s why we are so good together.”