The Oakland Raiders training camp battle at cornerback has ramifications that could affect the franchise beyond this season.
The expectations for the Oakland Raiders organization to deliver a Lombardi Trophy to the Bay Area will lie heavily on how its defense can perform, in particular, the defensive backfield and its corners. Even after selecting an exceptionally talented cornerback in Gareon Conley in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, there’s still a lot of questions as we head into this weekend’s camp action.
Could Conley’s legal woes dramatically affect the Raiders’ defense?
Earlier today Raider Nation drew a collective sigh of relief as Conley finally signed with the team but could it be a premature sigh? If the ongoing legal drama continues and probably keeps him from playing, then the defense right out of the gate is in trouble. Ed Gallek of Fox 8 Cleveland sent out a Tweet informing many that within days a grand jury could decide the fate of Conley’s current predicament; in other words, he’s not out of the gate just yet.
Grand jury could decide in days if there should be charges in Conley case or if there's not enough evidence
— Ed Gallek (@edgallekfox8) July 28, 2017
With that being said, for the sake of argument, where would such a “doomsday scenario” leave the Raiders with then? Well just by looking at who’s going to be at camp then literally speaking, the cornerbacks’ corps will feature David Amerson, Breon Borders, and TJ Carrie as the top defenders besides Sean Smith. Not exactly a unit that will strike fear into the hearts of coaches like Bill Belichick or Andy Reid. Speaking of Smith…
Can Sean Smith emerge as the Raiders’ top corner this season?
When Smith was picked up by general manager Reggie McKenzie many quickly assumed he’d take up the mantle of the Raiders’ “shutdown” or “number one” corner immediately with the retirement of the legendary Charles Woodson; well that didn’t exactly happen.
After getting burned early on which resulted in everything from a benching to getting called out on social media it was clear that even though Smith was talented, that perhaps, Raider Nation might’ve jumped the gun on expectations for the former Kansas City Chief. But if Conley is unable to play then there’s the hope that with the addition of defensive assistant John Pagano and mentoring from Rod Woodson that Smith might be able to live up to those early expectations after all.
Will the lesser known cornerbacks make any sort of meaningful impact?
Youth in the vital positions is valued differently from position to position in professional football but being an effectual “cover corner” is something that can transition from college to NFL rather easily if the natural speed and agility are there. Hence why many already think Conley will make an immediate impact if he can play. But it begs the question; what about the depth? Can it be depended on as the season goes?
Breon Borders and Chris Humes are rookies that will see a lot of action in the preseason which will give an early assessment of what these kids can bring to the table; albeit it’s preseason. Carrie is the one corner that we can expect big things from this season as he builds off a solid 2016 campaign in which he compiled 22 tackles, one interception, four passes defended, and one fumble recovery. If Conley can’t go then, Carrie can only improve on those numbers barring injury.
Some final thoughts…
If McKenzie did “do his homework” and all this media frenzy about Conley not being able to play or even worse, ending up in jail isn’t true, then this defense has enough weapons to improve on from last season. Also, McKenzie made sure that the “youth movement” infused the safety position with the likes of second round draft choice Obi Melifonwu, who by the way might see action at corner. For now, let’s wait and see how the legal trouble for Conley shapes up which will undoubtedly place concerns on the minds of Raider Nation if he can’t play; something that will dramatically affect the outlook for the defense this year.