ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders rookie cornerback Trayvon Mullen spent his freshman year in college trying to knock down passes from Deshaun Watson during practice while both were at Clemson. The two will meet again Sunday when Mullen makes his first NFL start against Watson and the Houston Texans.
The 40th overall pick in this year's draft, Mullen is getting the first crack at replacing former first-round pick Gareon Conley as Oakland's left cornerback. Conley was traded to the Texans this week in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick.
"It's an opportunity at hand so I'm ready," Mullen said Wednesday. "We've got guys on the team that are ready for me to show what I can do and ready for me to show I've got their backs. I've got a lot to prove and a lot to stand up to."
The move to trade Conley was the latest in a series of deals the Raiders have made since hiring general manager Mike Mayock, significantly altering a roster that coach Jon Gruden inherited when he was hired in January 2018.
Conley missed most of his rookie season injured but started 20 of next 22 games he played in, including all six this season. Mullen, by comparison, has been on the field for only 14 defensive snaps over Oakland's past three games, including just one in last week's loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Now Mullen will go against his former college teammate. Watson was in final season at Clemson when Mullen arrived as a fresh-faced freshman.
"Going against him in practice, I can say it made me better for that time that I was there," Mullen said. "Watching him and being that freshman in college and the type of player he was, I know for sure he made me better in practice when I did have the opportunity to go against him."
Raiders defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell was at Clemson while both Watson and Mullen were there and remembers watching the two go at it in practice, when Watson was throwing passes to current San Diego Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams.
"He came in freshman year and he had to go against Mike Williams every day in practice with Deshaun at quarterback," Ferrell said. "Coach (Dabo) Swinney used to call them out one on one. Stop the whole practice and call them out one on one. It'd be Trayon and Mike, and best man would win."
So who won more?
"Probably Mike," Ferrell said. "Trayvon won some of them but Mike won more."
Gruden expects Watson to target Mullen frequently on Sunday, knowing it's the rookie's first start. It's the NFL's natural food chain.
"He's going to be challenged, I know that," Gruden said. "But I think his makeup is perfect. He's a very confident, well-prepared kid. We'll see what happens. I'm not going to make any predictions. We'll get what we deserve at every position, including corner. I know he's going to be tested and I'm anxious to see him compete."
Rather than look at it as a negative, Mullen sees the likely extra attention as an opportunity to showcase himself.
"Most definitely. Give me a chance to make plays," Mullen said. "I feel like I'm prepared and I prepare myself weekly and daily for those type of situations because you never know."
Notes: WR Tyrell Williams (foot) returned to practice but is still questionable. Right tackle Trent Brown (calf) was limited. Running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder), right guard Gabe Jackson (knee) and center Rodney Hudson (ankle) were all held out of practice. . The Raiders signed defensive end Kasim Edebali, who last played in the NFL in 2018 with Cincinnati.