May 22, 2018 - 7:33 pm
Updated May 22, 2018 - 10:56 pm
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Gareon Conley backpedaled, shot his hands and flipped his hips Tuesday, shadowing a wide receiver on an NFL field for the first time in almost eight months. His explosion, fluidity and instincts were on display for all to watch.
That’s what Obi Melifonwu did.
Conley and Melifonwu debuted similarly for the Raiders in 2017, their rookie seasons maligned by injury. Conley, a cornerback and first-round pick, and Melifonwu, a safety and second-round pick, now are on much different paths. Team confidence remains high in the former, but concern might be rising for the latter.
At the least, there is tangible frustration.
Melifonwu was limited to individual reps on defense and special teams during Tuesday’s start to organized team activities. In 2017, he missed the first eight games to arthroscopic knee surgery. After five games and one adverse start at cornerback in Mexico City, hip surgery ended his season. This was after having missed a large portion of training camp to an ankle injury.
Surely, Melifonwu is displeased with the missed time; he wants to be a full participant.
Coach Jon Gruden seems increasingly impatient with the lack of readiness to participate in team drills.
“It doesn’t look close at all,” Gruden said at a news conference. “I’ll leave it at that. He doesn’t look close, to me, at all.”
Gruden later expanded on those comments when asked whether health or mental comfort is why Melifonwu is not close.
“Oh, he doesn’t look ready to roll yet,” Gruden said. “I don’t let anybody practice without being able to go physically. He doesn’t look like he’s 100 percent. I haven’t seen much of Obi — except in the training room.”
As one sophomore watched, Conley worked exclusively with the first-team defense. He is donning a new number, from No. 22 to 21, and looks poised for a new script. He was not visibly limited from the shin injury that forced him to miss all but two games last season before November surgery. He and cornerback Rashaan Melvin are slated to start in 2018.
A cluster of veteran cornerbacks under one-year contracts are working behind them. Those include newcomers Daryl Worley, Shareece Wright, Leon Hall and Senquez Golson.
“It’s great to see Conley out there,” Gruden said. “We’re counting on him. We need him. But to see Rashaan Melvin and Conley and Daryl Worley competing is really exciting. Conley is special. He’s a top pick in this draft for a reason. I think from a confidence standpoint, he needs to get some work in out here.”
The Raiders are not counting on Melifonwu to that degree in 2018. He showed less as a rookie when healthy than Conley did.
Safety Karl Joseph is anchored at one starting spot. On the other, veterans Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson saw first-team action Tuesday. Shalom Luani, a seventh-round pick last year, looks to make a leap when pushing for a reserve role.
The team hopes Melifonwu soon can enter that mix.