ALAMEDA – Obi Melifonwu participated in a Raiders practice Tuesday afternoon, his first session in months.
The second-round safety has been on injured reserve all season and hasn’t done football activities of any kind since suffering a knee injury in a preseason game in Dallas.
He had arthroscopic knee surgery and was put on the shelf for the season’s first half. Melifonwu's professional career barely started and then quickly stopped. That's why Wednesday's practice was such a big deal.
“It was awesome to get back out there, finally,” Melfonwu said. “It’s been a while. It was beyond fun to just be out there and practice with the team."
He nearing a return to game action. That’s why the Raiders designated him to return off injured reserve. Wednesday marks the start of a three-week practice window where the Raiders can decide whether to put him on the 53-roster.
He’s expected to do so when eligible. Melifonwu was first able to practice this week, and can join the 53-man roster after Week 8. His NFL debut could come in Week 9 at Miami.
He can't wait, especially because he's physically ready now.
"I feel 100 percent," Meilfonwu said. I feel fine."
The Raiders still struggle covering the aforementioned skill players, using young linebackers or an undersized safety against those guys. The Raiders have given up the most yards to tight ends and running backs in the NFL this season. Melifonwu was drafted to help cover tight ends and running backs right away in sub packages, with a long-term eye on a full-time starting spot.
"I bring versatility, and I think I’m a guy who can fit into a lot of different spots," Melifonwu said. "Wherever the coaches need me to fit and help the team win, I’m all for it."
He has missed significant development time while out. He also missed most of training camp with an apparent ankle injury. The team hopes he can be ready to contribute when eligible despite missing so much time. The downtime was difficult, but Melifonwu now hopes to hit the ground running.
"It was definitely tough," he said. "As a competitor, you always want to be out there helping your team win. As a guy who hasn’t been hurt, it was pretty tough. It comes with playing football. I’m just glad to be out there now."