New Texans CB Gareon Conley: Trade made him 'mentally stronger'

Gareon Conley's first NFL game on a team other than the Raiders will come against the Raiders. The Texans need Conley to pick up the defense quickly because of several injuries in the secondary. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- When cornerback Gareon Conley steps onto the field for his first game with the Houston Texans on Sunday, he’ll see some familiar faces.

Conley was traded by the Oakland Raiders to Houston on Monday and will face his former team -- which drafted him in the first round in 2017 -- on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium. He said there are “going to be a lot of emotions everywhere, but I'm happy to face the challenge.”

But while Conley might have some intel on his former teammates, offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said he has not asked him about the Raiders’ defense, adding that the cornerback is “really focused on trying to learn his game plan and trying to learn what his role is this week for coming up to defend the Raiders.”

Houston will need him to do that because the team is thin at cornerback. Cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring) did not play in the Texans' loss to the Colts last Sunday and is not expected to play in Week 8 either. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph has been limited in practice with injuries to his hamstring and neck, but he said earlier in the week he hopes to play against Oakland.

The Texans also lost cornerback Phillip Gaines, who played on 97% of the Texans' defensive snaps on Sunday before injuring his ankle near the end of the game. He was put on injured reserve on Monday. Rookie corner Lonnie Johnson, a second-round pick, started and played every defensive snap in Indianapolis.

Houston’s secondary has struggled this season, allowing an average of 275.6 passing yards per game. In Week 7, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

Conley is at the very least a short-term solution for a team that needed help at cornerback. But coach Bill O’Brien is hoping Conley can be a player Houston can build around in the secondary. Roby is playing on a one-year deal, and while he was playing well for the Texans before he injured his hamstring in Week 6, his price in free agency might be too high for Houston, which will have quite a few holes to fill this offseason. Joseph is entering the last season on his contract, and at age 35 he might not be back next season either.

O’Brien said the Texans studied the “athletic” Conley coming out of the draft and likes that the cornerback isn’t on an expiring contract. Conley is in the third year of his rookie deal; Houston can choose to pick up his fifth-year option as well.

This will be -- and has already been -- a whirlwind week for Conley since he was traded on Monday. But he said the experience has made him “mentally stronger.”

“You can go in one way, complaining, or go in a positive way,” Conley said. “I feel like I've just got to take it more positive and just do whatever I can to learn the playbook and get a win.”