Breaking news:Raiders linebacker under pressure to fill linebacker need
Fresh off the initial day of rookie mini camp after sporting his new No. 55 for the first time, Raiders linebacker Marquel Lee was asked if he was aware he’s rocking coach Jack Del Rio’s number.
“I did not know that,” Lee said with a chuckle.
It’s OK, no pressure, right?
“Lot of pressure, I guess,” he replied, somewhat sheepishly.
Regardless of his number, that could simply define the role on the team for the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder from Wake Forest. Most fifth-round draft picks come to camp looking to earn some sort of a backup or special teams role. That’s been the case for recent fifth-rounders like running back DeAndre Washington or fellow linebackers Neiron Ball and Ben Heeney.
But instead Lee, fairly or not, comes in with some expectations to not only be an immediate starter but to help fix the Raiders woes at a position that’s been a weakness for far too long.
Things can change before training camp or before the season starts in September and Del Rio has already made it known publicly — and assuredly in private conversations with general manager Reggie McKenzie — that he’d like to see more talent brought in at middle linebacker.
“I don’t know that we’ve adequately addressed our middle linebacker position, to be honest,” Del Rio said last week during an appearance on NFL Network. “I think we have some work to do there. The rest of our roster is pretty well situated, but we’ll be looking for a linebacker and we’ll continue to look, whether it’s the waiver wire, trades or available guys out there, veterans on the street. We’ll continue to look.”
For now, Lee and free agent weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins are the new major additions to the room. Heeney, who the Raiders went all-in on last season as their projected starting middle linebacker, should get another look too to see how he’s recovered from the torn ligaments in his ankle and if the year off to watch has helped his game.
And Perry Riley Jr. will linger out there as a possibility until some team comes to him with a number he’ll agree too. (And Bruce Irvin will probably keep needling both sides to make it happen with the Raiders).
But as the roster sits now, no rookie has a clearer path toward being in the starting lineup Sept. 10 in Nashville. Lee said that regardless of the team’s need, he’s heavily focused on learning his position.
“I’ve always been critical of myself playing the game,” Lee said. “As a linebacker, you have to know everything. You have to know the ins and outs of the defense. That’s what I plan to learn.”
He’s picked up on how desperate the fan base — which spent the draft clamoring for a linebacker only to see McKenzie wait until Day 3 — is to see him succeed through the dozens of direct messages he’s received on Twitter.
“I’ve got over like 100 or so DMs, comments and stuff,” he said. “So, it’s been pretty exciting. I’m glad I’m in Raider Nation. I’m trying to help out as best as I can.”
Lee said he’s watched a little Raiders film so far, but most of that work is still to come. He likes the vocal nature of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and is excited to be around a staff and team that has some accomplished middle linebackers in charge.
“It’s definitely a nice resource,” Lee said. “You can learn a lot from those guys. The ins and outs of the game and learning how to play the game at linebacker correctly.”
The Raiders are depending on him learning. No pressure.