Gareon Conley is no longer an Oakland Raider, as the team traded him to the Houston Texans earlier this week for a 2020 third-round pick.
For the last two years, Conley has started opposite Daryl Worley at the cornerback position, but now that he’s gone you might be wondering who is available to take his place. Fortunately, the Silver and Black have a handful of talent eager to make the most of their newfound opportunity.
On Monday, Head Coach Jon Gruden shared with the media that Trayvon Mullen, Nevin Lawson, Isaiah Johnson, and Keisean Nixon would all see reps in due time.
“Well we’re going to look at Mullen, obviously, Trayvon Mullen,” Gruden stated. “Isaiah is not back yet. We expect him back for the Charger game, which will be a home game – be exciting for that. Nevin Lawson, again, we’ll work in at that position as with Keisean Nixon. We’re going to get Trayvon ready to go.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther reiterated Coach Gruden’s comments Thursday following practice.
“We will work in a bunch of guys,” Guenther said. “Right now, Mullen is doing most of the work but we got plenty of guys that can play. But, we’ll roll some guys through throughout the course of the game for sure.”
Considering Conley never really missed much time following his rookie year, playing in every game except one last season, it’s understandable fans might not be as knowledgeable about the up-and-comers on the Raiders roster.
Trayvon Mullen, as Coach Gruden pointed out, will get the first crack at earning the starting job this Sunday, and he’ll face a tough task in DeAndre Hopkins. On top of facing one of the few elite wide receivers in the league, Mullen will try to make things difficult against his former teammate and now-Texans quarterback, Deshaun Watson.
During his three years at Clemson, Mullen amassed 68 tackles, four-and-a-half for loss, two sacks, four interceptions, and seven passes defensed. He’s played on big stages multiple times, most notably in his championship win over Alabama in early 2019, and he’ll be ready again Sunday for his first start as a Raider.
In addition to Mullen, the Raiders have Lawson available, as well as rookie Keisean Nixon. Lawson served a four-game suspension to start the year, but the coaching staff has slowly been working him back into the scheme. Amid his absence from the field, Lawson made sure to stay heavily involved in his playbook, but his suspension was a hindrance to his communication with his teammates; however, his fellow defensive backs have been helpful with any questions he’s needed answers to.
“It’s been good, man, it’s been good,” Lawson said when asked about the level of communication lately. “That’s the biggest thing, for us to continue to communicate, and certain things I don’t understand and don’t know I can go to any one of the guys and ask them that question. Or I can go to any one of my DB coaches, Jim [O’Neil], Coach Taver [Johnson], and if I really want to find something out more in depth, Paul Guenther’s office is always open for me to step into and figure it out. Being back has been good as far as communication.”
In his return to the field last week, Lawson was exclusively a factor on special teams, but his usage on defense should increase going forward, as well as Nixon.
Nixon joined the Raiders as an undrafted free agent, but after a strong training camp, he followed it up with big plays on special teams, and has been a major contributor in Rich Bisaccia’s special teams unit. Nixon played in every game except Week 7 against the Packers – due to Lawson’s return – but his athleticism and playmaking ability should keep him in the rotation.
The Raiders have a lot of raw talent at the cornerback position, and they’ll need to speed up their development a little bit going forward if the team wants to start stacking wins.