The Raiders’ first-round pick will make his NFL debut against the Jets this Sunday after a shin injury had sidelined him since June minicamp.
Gareon Conley, the cornerback out of Ohio State who went 24th overall in this year’s draft, has been “chomping at the bit” to return to action, Raiders’ coach Jack Del Rio said earlier this week. Conley said Friday he tried to convince coaches and trainers to clear him right when the injury happened.
Conley logged his first full practice on Thursday after being limited Wednesday. He was removed from Friday’s injury report entirely, clearing him to play against New York in Oakland’s home opener at 1:05 p.m. on Sunday.
“To finally be able to come back out and be with my teammates, it feels real good,” Conley said. ” … I always wanna play. I never wanna sit out. It’s hard for me to sit out. I was just relying on the trainers and the coaches. We all worked together to get me back and just wanted to make sure I was good when I came back.”
First-round pick Gareon Conley will make his NFL debut Sunday. Here’s what he said about that: pic.twitter.com/AmPgeyBcTP
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) September 15, 2017
It’s unclear what role he’ll have, as neither Del Rio nor Conley would delve into that aspect, but the rookie’s return comes at a good time for the Raiders. Cornerback Sean Smith, who played well against Tennessee in Week 1 and saw 75 percent of the defensive snaps, is questionable for Sunday after being limited in Friday’s practice with a neck injury.
“We’re excited to get a look,” Del Rio said of Conley. “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.”
Conley spent his time sidelined mainly studying film and the playbook to get accustomed to his first professional defense. He watched others take reps and jotted down mental notes. Teammates advised him on how to best observe practices and games, as well as how best to watch film, to accelerate the adjustment process upon his return.
Conley’s mom will be in attendance on Sunday and he knows, as a highly touted rookie making his debut, there will be pressure to perform in front of a home crowd.
“It’s a good thing. I’m an athlete. I’m used to pressure,” Conley said. “I just can’t wait to go out there and play.”
The Raiders’ defense may have surprised some in holding a multi-dimensional Titans’ offense to 16 points and under 100 rushing yards last Sunday in a 10-point win. Adding Conley to the mix will only help Ken Norton Jr.’s unit, even though it may not need much help against the abysmal Jets offense.
After Brandon Marshall joined the Giants this offseason and Quincy Enunwa was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury in early August, the Jets were left without their top two targets from a year ago. They added Jermaine Kearse from Seattle and have Robby Anderson on the other side as starters.
In his long-awaited return to action, Conley could certainly face better receivers. Regardless of the opponent, though, he’s just glad to be back.
“Past three months I haven’t been doing anything,” Conley said, “so just being out there with them, the other DBs, the defense, it just feels good to be out there … I feel like we already got a good defense. I’m just adding in more help.”
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