Among the areas of this newly revamped Raiders team that has been hard to get a bead on is the secondary. Safety has been a carousel this offseason and the cornerbacks may not be as set as some might think either.
“We are going to have to wait and see,” Gruden said of expected starters Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin. “I mean we played the Rams week two of the preseason. You would think we’d know about them, they would know about us but all of our starters on both teams were wearing sweat suits.”
It’s interesting Gruden mentions that second preseason game against the Rams because the lineup for that game may prove to be rather telling. Gruden said all of his starters were sitting. And yet the cornerbacks who started for the Raiders in that game were Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin while the starting safeties were last year’s starting duo of Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph. Could that have been a way of saying those four may not actually be the Raiders starters for the season?
You know who did sit for that game? Daryl Worley and Leon Hall. Gruden said he sat Hall because they had seen what he could do in the slot, suggesting he won’t be one of the two outside corners. But could it have been the plan at that time was for Worley to be a season opening starter?
It was four days later that the Raiders signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, which suggests it wasn’t until then that the Raiders were notified Worley would be suspended the first four games of the season.
Adding to the suspense here is the feeling from Vic Tafur of The Athletic that the Raiders liked Daryl Worley over Conley and that even with Worley not an option for week one the team could start Rodgers-Cromartie in the opener.
Conley has the cover skills, size and reflexes to be a No. 1 cornerback but I don’t think it’s clicked with the new coaching staff yet. In fact, if Daryl Worley hadn’t been suspended for four games, I think Worley and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would have started at cornerback against the Rams.
Keep in mind Melvin was one of the few expected starters to take the field both against the Rams and in the preseason finale in Seattle, leaving his status unclear as well.
Gruden wasn’t letting on about who will take the field first Monday night, saying only that he is “excited” to see Conley, Melvin, and Rodgers-Cromartie, and “can’t wait” to see Leon Hall. Adding “I’m not going to make any predictions.”
He mentioned Nick Nelson only to say that Hall is here to show the rookie “what it’s supposed to look like” to play that slot at the NFL level.
As for the safety spots, it was Marcus Gilchrist who was listed as the starter over Reggie Nelson on the first depth chart and after Gruden crowed about Erik Harris all offseason, he could be the starter ahead of Karl Joseph.
I’m sure there’s a bit of gamesmanship happening here on Gruden’s part. With a team that has yet to take the field, it’s best to keep the Rams guessing and force them to prepare for all possibilities. Though if it there were a clearcut favorite at any of those spots, we would probably know by now.