The Oakland Raiders are looking for consistency, and a pair of cornerbacks they can confidently hang their hat on week in and week out.
Looking at the roster compared from last year to this year, the defensive backs have experienced some major turnover, and with a bevy of new faces in the secondary, it’s been challenging to establish roles for each of them.
Daryl Worley – a former third-round pick by the Carolina Panthers – was suspended to start the year, but through Organized Team Activities and Training Camp the 23 year old impressed his new coaches. After serving a four-game suspension, No. 20 played his first snaps of 2018 last week, checking in for 49 snaps (77 percent). That’s a decent workload for a player being thrown back into the fray. He also played the most snaps out of any of the cornerbacks, with Rashaan Melvin and Leon Hall playing nine and eight snaps less. Not to mention, former first-round pick Gareon Conley played a mere 13 snaps.
The reason for this is simple; with so many options at the position, finding the right fit is going to take some different combinations, which Head Coach Jon Gruden addressed Wednesday.
“I just want to see somebody rise up, consistently rise up, stay up, honestly,” he said. “Whether it’s Conley or [Rashaan] Melvin, any of them. We have to get a couple of guys to really step up, choke this opportunity and make it clear and concise who the top guy is. You have to play better. You have to play consistently better. He’s got to be more physical and he has to continue to get more experience. Everybody wants to see Charles Woodson out there. He’s only played five games. He’s like a rookie. He’s going to continue to learn, get better. Again, he missed most of training camp and almost all of last season. You’re not seeing the finished product yet.”
In the five starts Conley has made in his young career, he has one interception, one touchdown, six passes defensed, and 10 tackles. An underappreciated aspect of No. 21’s game might be his run defense; according to Pro Football Focus, Conley has a 74.9 rating against the run, which is among the top 25 corners in the league. Like Gruden said, this is technically Conley’s first real NFL action after missing the majority of 2017. As he continues to see more playing time he’ll build on his earlier success, which Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther reiterated during his media availability Tuesday.
“Again, he didn’t play much last year and he’s basically a rookie player,” Guenther shared. “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.”
With time, the coaching staff will lean on Conley more and more, but Worley seems ready to carry some of the load early on. Sunday against the Chargers he finished as the Raiders second-leading tackler with eight. Now with Worley back in the mix, the competition at corner is as good as it’s been all season, and Guenther told the media they’re going to ride with the player who’s on a roll.
“Well, [Daryl] Worley came in and played really good for his first game,” Guenther explained. “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. 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 Conley, Worley, or Melvin gets the nod this Sunday in London, you can expect each of them to see a fair amount of run against the Seattle Seahawks.