One of the most exciting things about Raiders OTAs this week has been the performance of the defensive backs, and by that I mean the fact that both Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu are actually on the field and practicing. The Raiders’ top two draft selections in 2017 were both sidelined with injury for the majority of last year, but Conley is performing exceptionally well according to several reports.
“Same thing [as Gareon Conley], it’s good to have them out there,” said defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther. “There’s guys fighting for jobs. At this point and time when everything is new, I’m new here, so I told them I don’t care what happened in the past. It’s I’m going to keep the best 22, 23 guys that are here that I think can help us win. Again, he’s out there. He’s starting to work, which is good to see because he needs to. He needs to be out there playing and not in the training room. It’s good to see that he’s back out there.”
While Melifonwu may not be participating in as many drills as his teammates just yet, the fact that he’s on the field with the rest of the team is leagues ahead of where he was last year. When Obi is fully healthy, he will be a key cog in a defensive back corps that Guenther is very excited about.
“Shoot if you were at practice yesterday, we dropped about five picks yesterday,” Guenther added. “We made a big emphasis on turning the ball over. Obviously, it’s a big part of what we talk about in our meeting rooms. Turning the ball over, getting it back to our offense. We’ve had some opportunities and you see the guys are getting excited about it. It’s good to see that they’re all running down there, chasing the guy after he intercepts the ball. It’s been good. We’ve gotten our hands on a lot of balls, we just have to catch them more,” said Guenther.
Safety Reggie Nelson is a veteran of Guenther’s system (which is likely the reason he remains employed), and he also likes what he has seen from Melifonwu so far.
“I think Obi is working out all of his kinks and stuff right now,” said Nelson. “I’ve always been a fan of Obi, his size and how athletic he is and what he brings to the table when he’s healthy and stuff. So, I just can’t wait to see more out of Obi. He’s flying around, doing a good job competing like everyone else. I think Obi is going to be one of those shocking guys, because I like him. He’s a great athletic guy, tall, you know, just his body build period. Only he can stand in his way, to be honest with you.”
If early returns are any indication, it’s possible that the defensive backfield, which was arguably the Raiders’ biggest weakness last year, could become a strength, and Melifonwu will be a big part of that equation.