Gareon Conley looking forward to first game action in nearly a year

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Thursday, August 16, 2018

NAPA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley, who returned to practice Monday after missing the previous two-plus weeks with a hip strain, proclaimed himself healthy enough to play in Saturday's exhibition at the Los Angeles Rams.

"I'm expecting to play," Conley said. "I don't know what they've got planned for me, but I'm definitely looking forward to that, competing against somebody else for the first time in a year."

Conley, the No. 24 overall draft pick in 2017, was limited to two games last season because of a right shin injury that required surgery. He last appeared in a game Sept. 24 at the Washington Redskins.

This summer, he suffered a minor groin strain on Day 2 of mandatory minicamp but was healthy for the start of training camp. In the first practice of camp, though, on July 27, he strained a hip while breaking up a pass. The initial timeline was four weeks; Conley returned in 15 days and dressed and participated in pregame drills before the Raiders' exhibition opener against the Detroit Lions on Saturday.

He made it through three practices, two of which were padded, this week and was the starting right cornerback.

"First day [of camp], I felt real good," he said. "From the last injury and then getting another one, it was just real frustrating. But all the coaches, all my teammates, they kept me high, kept my head high."

In Wednesday's practice, Conley had a nice breakup of a deep pass down the sideline to Martavis Bryant, and both players went down in a heap. Conley and Bryant both popped up, dusted themselves off and ran back to their respective huddles, but given both players' injury histories, you couldn't have blamed Raiders coach Jon Gruden if he had held his breath.

"I try not to think like that," Gruden said. "I think too many of us are thinking like that. There's going to be some of that in this game. You just have to hope for the best. Our guys did a great job today and throughout camp maintaining a really good edict -- taking care of each other, trying to avoid piles of bodies being on the ground.

"Now that I think of it, I'm glad both of them got up."

It was perhaps more of a relief for Conley, who during his two weeks out spent each day rehabbing and studying the playbook, as well as tape of a different Raiders cornerback, from Rashaan Melvin to Daryl Worley to Leon Hall, while working on new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme.

"Press-man, simple job for the corners," Conley said. "It's hard to do, but it's simple on paper. So, not a lot of thinking. Just go out there and do your job."

Despite his history, Conley said he cannot afford to worry about injuries.

"More mental than physical," he said. "Because once you think about it, it's going to happen. ... It's been a long time since I've been in pads for real, so it just feels good to be out there in general."