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Key Raiders training camp match-up: Amari Cooper vs Gareon Conley

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Amari Cooper battling Gareon Conley in training camp will tell us a lot about the Raiders on both sides of the ball.

NFL: Oakland Raiders-Minicamp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After getting picked in the fifth round in 2011, former Oakland Raiders receiver Denarius Moore showed up to his first training camp and absolutely balled out. Watching him make all those plays was exciting but I wondered if it was him or the defense. Remember, then owner Al Davis had just allowed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to walk in free agency. Raiders fans would find out it was a little of both as Moore kept it going that season, averaging 18.7 yards per catch while having the NFL’s 29th-ranked defense cost the Raiders a chance at a playoff berth.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Raiders were still horrible at the CB position. And 1st-round rookie Amari Cooper abused guys like T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden in his first training camp. When cameras zoomed in on Cooper, he shook those guys so bad at the line, you couldn’t even see them on the screen. That was also a case of good WR vs bad CB’s as Cooper went over 1,000-yards in each of his first two seasons while the Raiders CB’s remained suspect.

Cooper had a bad year in 2017, struggling with injuries, but should rebound in 2018. Gareon Conley, the team’s 2017 1st-round pick, couldn’t stay on the field last year due to injury after looking promising in week two against the New York Jets. Head coach Jon Gruden loves Cooper and Conley and is depending on both of them to rebound from their injuries.

“I said it when he came out of Alabama, that he reminded me of a young Tim Brown,” Gruden said of Cooper this offseason. “He has that type of game speed. He’s elusive, and has a wide range of routes he can run. He’s flexible. It’ll benefit him to stay healthy and stay in the same system for a few years. If he does that, great things are ahead.”

“Conley’s practicing now,” Gruden said of Conley during OTA’s. “He’s at full speed, he’s at full strength, and you talk about a huge addition to our team. It starts with Gareon Conley who missed almost all of it last year. This is a shutdown corner. He’s a guy that we’re gonna build our secondary around.”

They both have great speed and while Cooper is known for creating separation, Conley is known for preventing it. So this is one of the battles I’m really looking forward to in training camp to see where they both are. When you have two great athletes like this matching up, someone gets beat and has to adapt. Then he comes back and wins, forcing the other to adapt and next thing you know, we have a back-and-forth battle on our hands.

That’s iron sharpening iron, something the Raiders haven’t seen lately with good offenses with no defense to match. A good battle between Cooper and Conley means Cooper is back and Conley is as advertised. And they can continue to push each other, making it easier to beat the men in front of them when it counts.