Gareon Conley trade part of Raiders' youth movement, Jon Gruden's re-shuffle

ALAMEDA, Calif. — It was telling that Jon Gruden would not say whether or not Gareon Conley‘s play had been up to standard when asked that very question after announcing the trade of the cornerback to the Houston Texans on Monday, wasn’t it?

Then again, you could kind of see it coming, even if Conley was the Oakland Raiders‘ first-round draft pick in 2017, or, one year pre-Gruden 2.0.

Consider the roster turnover Gruden has overseen since he returned in January 2018. Because after dealing Conley to, ironically enough, the team the Raiders will face Sunday, only nine players on Oakland’s 53-man roster were there before Gruden left Monday Night Football for the Black Hole. And this is not a warning shot to quarterback Derek Carr, right guard Gabe Jackson, center Rodney Hudson, safety Karl Joseph, running backs Jalen Richard and DeAndré Washington, linebacker Nicholas Morrow, offensive tackle David Sharpe, or even safety Erik Harris.

But keep your head on a swivel, fellas. Gruden, with an assist from general manager Mike Mayock, is still building his foundation, tweaking the roster to what he likes. As is his prerogative.

The warning signs for Conley were there this spring, when Oakland used a second-round pick on Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen and a fourth-rounder on Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson. Mullen will now step into Conley’s role opposite Daryl Worley, and Johnson is starting Week 2 of his 21-day window to practice and come off injured reserve in time to face the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 7. He suffered a facial injury in the preseason opener.

The Raiders also signed South Carolina undrafted rookie corner Keisean Nixon, who played his youth ball for coach Snoop Dogg (yes, that coach Snoop Dogg), and veteran Nevin Lawson is working his way back into shape after serving a four-game suspension for taking a banned substance to start the season.

“We want to give them an opportunity,” Gruden said at his weekly media conference Monday afternoon, “like we are a lot of our other young players at other positions.

“We feel like we’ve got some guys we want to take a look at. The only way to get these guys ready for prime time is to put them out there … Mullen, Isaiah, Keisean and those guys need to see the field.”

Mullen had a rough go of it in the Raiders’ season-opening win over the Denver Broncos, getting burned and benched, but Gruden says he has seen him “progressively improving” in practice.

“He has size,” Gruden said. “He’s still young, he’s an underclassman at Clemson. He’s still raw. He still has some green to him. But he’s a great kid, a great competitor. He has size, change of direction, he’s tough. He has a lot of pride. He has big upside. I feel the same way about Isaiah. I think these guys need to get out there on the grass and play.

“I’ll take responsibility for how it goes, but I have their back. I have a lot of confidence in them. I want to see them go out there and deal with some of the best receivers in football … so, Trayvon, if you’re listening, let’s get to work here.”

Meanwhile, Conley arrived in Oakland under a dark cloud. Seen as a potential Top 10 pick out of Ohio State, Conley fell to the Raiders at No. 24 overall after he was accused of sexual assault the week of that draft. Three months later, though, a grand jury declined to charge him following a police investigation.

Cleared, Conley had a tough time getting on the field as a rookie. A shin injury he later said was a broken tibia limited him to just two games. Healthy in 2018, he tied for the team lead with three interceptions in 15 games.

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