ALAMEDA – Jon Gruden approached Trayvon Mullen this week in the Raiders training complex to deliver the rookie cornerback one simple message.
It’s your time.
The Raiders had just traded outside cornerback Gareon Conley to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round draft pick, leaving a vacancy in the starting lineup. Mullen gets the first shot to fill it. If the No. 40 overall draft pick does well, he could be there for years to come.
It’s his time.
“This means a lot,” Mullen said. “I’m going to prove to them that they can trust and believe in me, and that I’m going to make the plays that come to me.”
Ironically, that’s the same message Conley gave his friend and protégé on his way to Houston.
Conley said it’s time to step up, time to shine.
That’s why Mullen called the opportunity “bittersweet.” He’s getting a great chance to launch his NFL career, but losing a friend and mentor who, oddly enough, he’ll see on the opposite sideline Sunday when the Raiders face the Texans at NRG Stadium.
“That was a good feeling knowing I have an opportunity, but it’s tough losing a guy I could depend on in Gareon, someone who was helping me grow and get better,” Mullen said. “I have to put that aside and start making plays and help this team.”
Mullen hasn’t had many opportunities thus far. He played heavier snaps in the first two weeks and got beat in key moments but hasn’t played much defense since.
“He has been in every game and he’s played better,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s prepared himself, I think better. He’s healthy now. Remember he was hurt in training camp for a while, but I’m not going to make any predictions. We’ll get what we deserve at every position, including corner. I know he’s going to be tested and I’m anxious to see him compete.”
Mullen will get targeted a ton by fellow Clemson product and Houston quarterback DeShaun Watson, possibly while covering another Clemson product DeAndre Hopkins. Those elite talents are hard to handle, and Mullen might take some lumps early, but teammates like how he keeps getting up to compete.
“Trayvon is ultra-competitive,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “With a lot of corners, if they get beat in a practice, they get super mad and then they’re grabby, he just kind of stays even keeled but at an ultra-competitive level if that makes sense. Proven over time he’s not afraid to stick his face in there and hit somebody. He did it a lot in college and he’s done it for us in the short time that we’ve seen him be able to stick his head in there, he has no problem with the contact, which is a lost art these days at that position, and he has no problem doing it.
“He reminds me of just an old school, grimy, tough kind of corner. I think he’s…he’s a rookie so he’s going to have his plays where he wants them back, but at the end of the day I think he can be a really good player.”
Mullen has worked hard on his technique, on getting low and staying low, he says, and getting on the same page with fellow defensive backs.
Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow has worked extensively against Mullen during their college days and shared some insight on how the cornerback will treat this starting chance.
“As I see it, Trayvon feels out his way and, when it’s his time, he goes and attacks it,” Renfrow said. “That’s what I think he’s going to do. That’s what I expect him to do. He’s a great player, and he’s reliable. That’s the most important thing. He’s going to be where he needs to be, and he’s going to go out and make plays.”