Browns-Raiders: Matchups to watch


Browns-Raiders: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- Emotions are sure to run high for the Raiders against Cleveland in their first home game since the passing of owner Al Davis on Saturday.So Oakland will have more than the Browns to worry about at the Coliseum. The Raiders will have to guard against an emotional letdown, of sorts. But to a man, the Raiders insist that won't be the case, not when they are already aware of such danger."That's what most people are expecting us to do -- come out here against the Browns...flat and lay an egg," said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. "I don't expect us to do that. We looked good in practice. We're just trying to build."It's going to be emotional because they're going to do the tribute for the old man. I already know what he wants out of this team. He wants championships and we can't be talking about trying to go win our division and slip up against Cleveland at home. You have to win your home games, break even on the road. This is a big game because we lost our last home game."A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:Raiders outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (96) vs. Browns running back Peyton Hillis (40)
TALE OF THE TAPEWimbley: 6-4, 255, Florida State, sixth seasonHillis: 6-2, 250, Arkansas, fourth seasonWimbley was a revelation in his first season with the Raiders, leading the team with nine sacks last year. This season, he has only one sack in five games.Concerned? Not Wimbley. Neither are the Raiders. Not when he's still getting pressures. And not when he's sure to be amped up playing against his former team, an organization that traded him to the Raiders on March 14, 2010 for a third-round draft pick. That pick turned out to be quarterback Colt McCoy."Oh, yeah, I've been watching him," Wimbley said. "He's doing pretty good. But it's no different than any other quarterback that I'm going after. The main goal is to affect him, get him on the ground and get sacks."This will be a fun game. I know a lot of the players over there. Im looking forward to going out, playing as hard as I can and winning the game."Wimbley, the No. 13 overall pick of the 2006 draft, had 11 sacks as a rookie outside linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4 scheme but after four seasons with the Browns, a voicemail from the Raiders, and not his initial NFL team, while he was on a long driving trip from Florida to Ohio let him know he had been traded."I practiced and competed with a lot of those guys for years, so I know a little bit about them," Wimbley said. "They know about me, as well. So, it will be fun to go out there and see them again, play against them and play them here in Oakland."Wimbley's salaries have skyrocketed in Oakland. He was initially supposed to make 685,000 in the final year of his initial contract and the Raiders tried to utilize the "buyback" option to keep him in the fold. But the bump to 3.5 million was in violation of the NFL's "30 percent rule." So the Raiders used the franchise tag on him, worth 11.3 million. But when Oakland needed salary cap relief, he restructured his deal and is now guaranteed a reported 29 million.He is, no doubt, a much more financially secure player than he was the last time his old Browns teammates saw him."There are a lot of new faces over there but there's still a whole bunch of familiar faces," Wimbley said. "So, I'm sure guys will be chatting it up a little bit when we get out there on the field Sunday."But the pleasantries will stop with the opening kickoff. Playing on the strong side, Wimbley will be sure to get a healthy dose of Hillis running behind the tight end. Wimbley, who also plays end in the Raiders nickel defense, could see significant time there if Matt Shaughnessy's shoulder keeps him out a third straight game and the newly-acquired Aaron Curry finds time at strong-side linebacker in run situations.Enter Hillis.Interestingly enough, Hillis was Oakland tailback Darren McFadden's blocking back at Arkansas, but has carved out his own identify in Cleveland after rushing for 1,177 yards last season and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He's averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry thus far."Peyton Hillis is as good as there is in the league," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "The guy, he's a beast. He'll run you over, there's no question about that."If you get in his way you better get ready to get bruised up. Everybody needs to go get their massages and all the other foo-foo stuff we need to do before we play this guy because you're going to have to bring your 'A' game to get this guy down, I promise you that."Plus a more effective and highly-motivated Wimbley against the run.Other matchups worth watching: Raiders tight end Kevin Boss (87) vs. Browns outside linebacker Scott Fujita (99) -- After catching a combined six passes in his first two games as a member of the Raiders, Boss was shut out and was not even targeted once against Houston. Turns out his blocking skills were more needed against the Texans' fearsome pass rush.The Browns offer no such rush, though it's under-rated."It will be different," assured Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, "and he will be more involved in other games."So that should free up Boss to release and find seams down the middle of the field."They give you a lot to prepare for, no doubt about it," Fujita said. "Even today's practice, it was kind of mentally exhausting, working through the gymnastics of everything, play in, play out, personnel changes, big shifts, bringing in a big offensive lineman in a tight end position, doing some unbalanced (things)really stretching the perimeters with these running backs. So you have your work cut out for you."Especially if the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Boss gets going and Fujita, who is 6-5, 250 pounds, is charged with covering him.Raiders special teams coach John Fassel vs. Browns returner Josh Cribbs (16) -- With eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns and two punt returns for scores, Cribbs has long been one of the most dangerous return men in the game.So how does "Bones" Fassel gameplan for a guy averaging 28.4 yards on kick returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns this season? Does he simply have Sebastian Janikowski kick the ball out of the end zone?"That's what he's known for," said Cribbs, who has two returns of at least 40 yards this season. "So to combat that we will take deeper drops.I'm going to be standing back there like I was the first game against Cincinnati. I will have my foot on the edge of the end zone ready to bring them out.We're going to make it happen when they give us an opportunity."And on punts, should Shane Lechler out-kick the coverage with a 6-1, 215-pound burner sitting in wait?"Oh I love it, we love that," said Cribbs, who has three punt returns of at least 20 yards this season. "We love for them to out-kick their coverage because that gives them the disadvantage. He might think that it's a good thing for them to give them the opportunity to pin us back, but I believe we have a great return unit and the guys really get after it."The special teams ball, so to speak, is in Fassel's court.

Raiders' first-round pick Conley opens up on emotions after off-field issues

Raiders' first-round pick Conley opens up on emotions after off-field issues

ALAMEDA – Gareon Conley’s name has been sullied, at least temporarily. He feared it would be long enough to send him free falling down the NFL Draft.

The Ohio State cornerback and top-15 prospect was accused of rape stemming from an April 9 incident in Cleveland, an allegation he called “completely false.”

The Raiders clearly believe him. That’s why they drafted him No. 24 overall on Thursday evening, and expect him to be a long-term solution in their secondary.

Conley wasn’t sure how far he’d fall after being beaten down by one rough week, when the allegation went public. Reggie McKenzie’s first-round selection and subsequent call was more emotional than expected.

“It made it 10 times more special,” Conley said Thursday night in a conference call. “Just having that doubt in my mind, just not knowing (how far I would fall). Just having faith and having doubt, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When it came, it shocked me. It felt unreal, honestly. It still feels unreal.”

Being a top pick was expected after an excellent career at Ohio State. The rape accusation threatened to destroy his draft-day dreams. Conley has not been arrested or charged in relation to the incident, though an investigation is ongoing.

Conley said he volunteered to take a polygraph test that was shared with NFL teams, and reportedly passed the one he took. He said in a statement there are witnesses and video evidence proving he didn’t do anything illegal.

Conley spent the last few days trying to proclaim his innocence. 

He is scheduled to meet with Cleveland police on Monday to discuss the April 9 incident -- he'll also submit a DNA sample, according to ESPN -- where group sex was suggested and a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted.

Conley believes his name will be cleared in time.

“I’m very confident it will be resolved," Conley said. "I took a test today that helps. Then when I made my statement and all the evidence that I have, I feel confident it’ll be resolved.”

Conley admits he shouldn’t have put himself in a compromising position, which occurred at a Cleveland hotel earlier this month.

“I could’ve made way better judgment,” Conley said. “I mean, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I definitely could’ve made a better decision.”

Conley hopes to move beyond it quickly and start focusing on football. He is scheduled to fly west for a press conference on Friday.

Conley is thankful to the Raiders for believing in him despite his recent troubles.

“It’s off the charts, honestly,” Conley said. “Just to know that they have faith in me, not even just as a football player but as a person like that, it speaks highly of them, and I really appreciate it. It’s an honor to be a part of the Raider organization.”

McKenzie: Raiders did their 'due diligence' before drafting Gareon Conley

McKenzie: Raiders did their 'due diligence' before drafting Gareon Conley

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders used the No. 24 overall pick on Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley. This wasn’t a second-round flier or a late-round gamble.

That’s a first-round pick. Rolling the dice this early is ill advised. The Raiders don't believe they did with a selection accompanied by a $5.78 million signing bonus, $10.5 million in total money and a valuable fifth-year option to keep a player in town.

They wouldn’t risk such an asset on someone in serious legal trouble. The Raiders did significant research on Conley, who was accused of rape earlier this week, before making a selection. Results gave the Raiders confidence in their choice. 

Conley has not been arrested or charged over an allegation that stems from an April 9 interaction in a Cleveland hotel.

Conley said the accusations are “completely false,” in a statement released by his agent. He claims to have witnesses and video evidence that he didn’t do anything illegal during an exchange where group sex was suggested. He is scheduled to meet with Cleveland police about the allegation and an investigation into it on Monday.

Conley said he took and passed polygraph test prior to the draft, hoping to avoid a free fall into the draft’s later rounds.

The Raiders clearly believe him. They wouldn’t have used such a high pick on the Ohio State cornerback otherwise. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team thoroughly investigated the matter, and felt comfortable using a high pick on someone who sat alone atop their draft board at No. 24 overall.

“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process,” McKenzie said Thursday night, after making the Conley pick. “We trust our research, reports, everything that we have on Mr. Conley. We feel really good about picking Gareon Conley and having him join the Raiders team and having him be a great teammate for our players.”

McKenzie didn’t detail the Raiders research efforts, but didn’t seem concerned about this off-field issue.

“I don’t want to get into all the details,” McKenzie said, “but the bottom line is that we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were.”

McKenzie said he spoke with owner Mark Davis about Conley, as he does most first-round options.

The Raiders were impressed by Conley’s workouts and his game tape. The rape accusation obviously gave the NFL pause regarding his draft status, and he slipped somewhat in the first round.

The Raiders are confident following an internal investigation that his legal troubles will pass without incident.

“The research was done,” McKenzie said. "It wasn’t just a gut (feeling). It was based on research, and we’re very confident in all the information that we got.”