It was pretty much assumed that with 2017 top pick Gareon Conley back after missing his rookie season with a shin injury that he would be one of the team’s starters. That plan hit a snag when he injured himself on the first day of training camp, causing him to miss most of camp. He missed all of camp last year, then missed all but two games of the season.
While he was away in this year’s camp, free agent acquisition Daryl Worley got first team reps. Worley is an accomplished NFL corner who was cut by the Eagles after he was arrested for DUI and weapons charges. That incident yielded a 4-game suspension, otherwise it was looking like Worley would have been the starter to begin the season.
With Worley suspended, Conley would have his chance over the first four games to prove he deserved the job.
Outside of Conley’s pick six — which came off a pass defended by Marcus Gilchrist after his receiver fell down — he has mostly been known for giving up big plays. In Worley’s first game back, he eclipsed Conley’s snaps. Worley made a few nice plays and was one of the few players who stood out in a positive way.
“Well, [Daryl] Worley came in and played really good for his first game,” Guenther said. “That added an extra guy to the mix so it’s a battle at corner right now. That’s the best way I can tell him (Conley). Everybody is competing for jobs and we are going to go with the hot hand. That’s what he’s got to concentrate on this week.”
Whether it’s letting his receiver get behind him or missing the tackle, Conley has routinely found himself chasing his receiver on a big play.
“[Conley] didn’t play much last year and he’s basically a rookie player,” said Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther. “He is learning a lot of things. Unfortunately, he gives up the one play off the goal line and we are in a pretty good call to stop it. I don’t want to give him too much right now. If we can give him little by little by little just like a normal rookie player. That’s how I’m viewing Gareon. He really only played one and half games last year and he sat out pretty much through the offseason. It’s no different than a young player. He’s a work in progress.”
The play off the goal line Guenther is referring to is a 48-yard catch Conley gave up on the Chargers’ final scoring drive on first down from their own 4-yard-line.
Last week against the Browns Conley gave up a 59-yard catch that led to a touchdown. The previous week he gave up a 21-yard catch, a 36-yard catch that led to a touchdown. And against the Broncos, he gave up the 26-yard catch that set up the game-winning field goal.
Giving up explosive plays has been a problem for the Raiders all season. They are dead last in the NFL in giving up explosive plays. Worley figures to help with that. He’s a solid tackler and proven cover corner. There were also times on Sunday when Worley and Conley on the field and Rashaan Melvin was not. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Leon Hall have all also rotated in quite a bit, something Guenther has said he would do.
“I said it last week. I want to eventually get to two starting corners and we are settled there,” said Guenther. “Obviously, Daryl came back. He was one of our best corners all offseason and he proved it again on Sunday that he is a high-level player. We will just see how it goes; really based upon what the snaps are, the situation, on how guys are playing.”
Jon Gruden said this week that he’s never been on a team that had a cornerback rotation. It’s unusual and in most cases it’s because there isn’t a solid pair of starters. The Raiders have had depth at the position. Worley adds to that depth. But whether they have two surefire starters is another question.
Eventually Conley must prove he is more than a rookie. Putting together a full season and offseason would be a good way to do that.