Gareon Conley ready for 'responsibility' of being Raiders' No. 1 cornerback

Gareon Conley ready for 'responsibility' of being Raiders' No. 1 cornerback

NAPA -- Jon Gruden is a brilliant football mind, and he has crafted the 2019 Raiders into his version of what a football team should look like. 

Gruden acquired Antonio Brown, and brought in Tyrell Williams, Trent Brown and Lamarcus Joyner. But there's one thing he hasn't been able to do: Get Gareon Conley to take off his hood. 

“You know Gareon, he’s more of a day-to-day, to himself kind of guy," Gruden said Tuesday. "I try to get Gareon to take the hood off so I can find out where he is, he’s wearing that hood all the time. He’s a private person for the most part and that’s fine with me. We are just trying to get him to be all he can be for 16 weeks. We want him to be healthy and If he’s out there every day he’s got a chance to be an excellent football player. That’s the big thing right now.”

Conley, who was the Raiders' first-round draft pick in 2017, has dealt with his fair share of injuries early on in his career. But now that he's fully healthy for the first time in his young NFL career, the Ohio State product is slated to be the Raiders' No. 1 cornerback and the leader of the secondary. Drawing the assignment of the opposing team's best receiver is a task the 24-year-old relishes. 

“I mean I like all pressure," Conley said. "Any responsibility I take on, I’m going to take it and embrace it. So if anybody wants to go in and put their best receiver up, I’m going to try and go against them and lock them down."

The additions of Brown and Williams have helped Conley and the rest of the Raiders' defensive backfield get better over the course of the offseason. Conley and Brown matched up Tuesday in practice, with Brown getting the best of him on a corner route. Conley has been picking Brown's brain about everything from positioning at the line of scrimmage to when he decides to break in his routes. 

Last season, Conley allowed only 54 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, and quarterbacks notched just a 72.8 passer rating when targeting him. Brown's wealth of knowledge only can help him take his game to the next level. 

Despite a solid second year, Conley knows he has a ways to go. 

"I feel like I made great strides," Conley said. "But I can always make greater strides and I’m always looking to get better and there’s always money out there left on the field. So I just got to get better every time I can.”

[RELATED: Renfrow set to be key piece of Raiders' offense]

Conley will anchor a secondary that has Joyner, Daryl Worley, rookies Trayvon Mullen and Johnathan Abram and safety Karl Joseph. He's ready for the challenge that comes with being the No. 1 cornerback and the leader in the secondary. But what about taking his hood off for Gruden?

"That probably won't happen," Conley said with a smirk before heading back to the weight room. 

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

ALAMEDA -- Ryan Tannehill is receiving credit for Tennessee’s recent resurgence. That’s appropriate given how well the former backup quarterback has been playing during a 5-1 stretch since becoming the starter.

Let’s not forget who’s really driving the Titans' offense. That’s the 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train coming out of the backfield.

Derrick Henry has been a monster this season, proving as tough to take down as ever. He has 1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, currently on a run of three straight games with at least 145 yards and a touchdown.

A repeat performance on Sunday against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum would make Henry the only player to do so in four straight games.

The Raiders would like to prevent that and are armed with the No. 12-ranked run defense. They’ll try to slow a back that never seems to wear down.

“The secret sauce in Henry is he’s got all the talent, and size, and running instincts, but he never tires,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He does not get tired. He’s a machine, man. This guy wears you down -- physical -- he can wear you down. You’ve got to gang tackle him. He’s a better-than-advertised receiver, but he just never tires. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets. It’s an impressive human being.”

Tannehill obviously benefits from Henry’s threat and a balanced offense that has the Titans going strong. Stopping the run, or slowing it at least, will be key for the Raiders' defense in this important game. It will not, however, be easy.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know it’ll be a challenge dealing with Superman Derrick Henry,” defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. "... He’s a great back. He’s big. He’s fast. He sheds tackles like there are kids trying to tackle him. I think, overall, we have to do a good job of keeping him in the backfield and not giving him open lanes or creases to work. We also need to hit him as much as we can, because he’s a big guy. Overall, I think we’re ready for the challenge. I’m excited for this game.”

[RELATED: Raiders' offense takes big hit with Brown out vs. Titans]

It’ll take the entire defensive unit playing disciplined football to slow Henry down. Give him an inch of space or leverage or poor tackling technique and he’ll take chunk yards by the mile.

“I just think you’ve got to be in good position,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. You’ve got to play the blocks. First and foremost, you’ve got to be in the right spots, play the block, and then when he gets through there you’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. He does a good job of trying to get extra yards, so we’ve got to put hats on him wherever he is, on his body as he’s trying to get those extra yards. We’ve got to make sure we get eleven to him.”

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have launched a campaign to help running back Josh Jacobs become the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

They have opened a website extolling his virtues. They have passed out buttons. They even have fullback and "chief of interior transportation" Alec Ingold giving a fireside chat about how awesome Jacobs has been in 2019.

The promotional materials may draw some extra attention, but Jacobs’ case is easy to make.

He has smashed every Raiders rookie rushing record. He exceeded 1,000 yards in his 12th game and will have huge totals even if he isn’t able to play Sunday against Tennessee. He’s formally questionable with a fractured shoulder he's been playing through since trucking Green Bay safety Adrian Amos in Week 7.

His numbers are pretty awesome. Jacobs has 218 carries 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s 4.9 yards per carry, and he ranks fifth in the NFL in total rushing yards. He also has another 18 receptions 146 yards.

The competition must always be considered, but he has to be the frontrunner after winning back-to-back rookie of the month awards.

Arizona's No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray is certainly a candidate, but the Cardinals don’t have many wins. Washington receiver Terry McLaurin and Baltimore wideout Marquise Brown have had good seasons, but they shouldn’t be considered serious competition here.

The Raiders haven’t had an offensive rookie of the year since Marcus Allen won it in 1982, and Jacobs has smashed Allen’s records from that strike-shortened year. Charles Woodson was the last rookie of the year on either side of the ball, winning the defensive award in 1998.

[RELATED: NFL prospects for Raiders to watch on Championship Weekend]

Jacobs’ shoulder injury could hurt the campaign more than anything, especially if he misses a few games or gets shut down for the rest of the season if the playoffs become a distant pipe dream.

Outside of that, he should be the favorite to win the award heading down the stretch.