ALAMEDA, Calif. — Raiders rookie cornerback Isaiah Johnson has been designated as one of the team’s two players to return from injured reserve and practiced Monday for the first time in the regular season.
Johnson suffered a concussion and facial injuries during the Raiders’ first preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. He’s been sidelined since and started the regular season on injured reserve. He’s still ineligible to play, as players must spend a minimum of eight weeks on IR before being eligible to return.
But Johnson can practice now, with his 21-day window open to return to on-field activities. At the end of it, the Raiders must decide whether to activate Johnson or put him on season-ending IR.
After Monday’s practice, his first since early August, Johnson said he’s been working to improve every day.
“Just trying to get better, trying to figure out what I needed to do to come back ready to play,” he said.
A fourth-round pick out of Houston, Johnson had flashed at times in training camp before his concussion. But he said he didn’t get too down on himself during his recovery.
“I just feel like everything happens for a reason,” Johnson said. “So when I got hurt, it didn’t really destroy me mentally — just because I knew there were steps to getting to where I wanted to go. So I just used it as a learning experience.”
Johnson said he found some value in having to sit back and observe. He admitted he found it difficult at first to be in meetings and not be part of the film the team was studying. But then, he felt a shift.
“After a while, you mature and learn how to be a pro,” he said. “Once you learn how to be a pro and keep watching the film … then you start applying it to yourself, so when you come back, you know how to use it.”
While his 21-day window means he must be activated by Nov. 4, Johnson said he wasn’t sure if he’ll be activated before then. He would be eligible to play in the Raiders’ Nov. 3 home game against the Detroit Lions.
If he’s placed on the active roster, Johnson could contribute to a secondary that has been playing heavy numbers with starting cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley. But Raiders coach Jon Gruden recently said Worley probably would move into a hybrid role between cornerback and safety, which could open a spot in the secondary. If that happens before Johnson’s activation, Trayvon Mullen and Keisean Nixon could see more time at cornerback.
Johnson also could play on special teams — a role he would embrace.
“I’ve enjoyed playing special teams all throughout college,” Johnson said. “So I feel like that’s just as important as defense.”
The Raiders can choose one more player to return from injured reserve. That probably would be linebacker Marquel Lee (ankle), but quarterback Nathan Peterman (elbow) also is a possibility.
Peterman went on IR at the same time as Johnson, so he’s also eligible to return for the Nov. 3 game. Lee went on IR after Week 3, so the earliest he could return is Week 12 when the Raiders play the New York Jets.