The Oakland Raiders certainly had their issues at inside linebacker last year. Will rookie Marquel Lee have what it takes to wear the green dot Week 1?
One of the bigger themes coming out of the first several days of training camp is that the Oakland Raiders will be a more balanced football team in 2017. Offensively, this team is solid and should be in the top quarter of the NFL once again. Head coach Jack Del Rio is seeing his defense make great strides.
While general manager Reggie McKenzie has done an excellent job of making this defense better out on the edge and in the trenches, the Raiders’ Achilles’ Heel defensively will once again be inside linebacker. Ben Heeney and Cory James didn’t get it done last year. However, one player has had a great deal of praise thus far in camp: rookie Marquel Lee.
Oakland used the No.168 pick in the fifth round to select the inside linebacker Lee out of Wake Forest. As a senior, Lee had 105 total tackles, 20.0 for a loss of yardage and 7.0 quarterback sacks. He was a key member of that defense for Dave Clawson that saw the Demon Deacons go bowling last holiday season.
Some could argue that Lee was a great find for the Raiders in the fifth round. He has the potential to play at a high level in the NFL, but he really is being thrust into the fire year one. Though only a rookie, Lee may very well be asked to wear the green dot as the defense’s signal caller at inside linebacker. Will he be ready for the challenge Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans?
More often than not, either a middle linebacker or the strong safety will have the special helmet that the defensive coordinator can communicate with. The issue with that for the Raiders is that Lee and safety Obi Melifonwu are rookies. The NFL is a completely different beast than the ACC or the AAC.
Fortunately for Lee, three things seem to be in his favor with his chances to rock the green dot for the 2017 Raiders as a rookie.
- Del Rio, McKenzie and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. have all played the position at a high level in the NFL before. That trio could help hasten Lee’s development as a professional.
- It’s not like the entry point into the inside linebacker rotation in Oakland is very high. This was the worst part of the defense last year by a wide margin. Lee will get his reps early and often.
- He seems to be a player that plays with a great deal of consistency. Lee doesn’t always make the flashy plays, but rarely messes up his assignment. That is the first step towards being the signal caller of a defense.
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Frankly, Lee might be the one player that gets the most out of the Raiders’ first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night.
Look for the young kid out of Wake Forest to play a bunch in these four preseason games.
While trotting out a potential starter that the Raiders will have to lean on in several exhibition games isn’t ideal, Lee needs the reps at getting his defense squared away.
He is fortunate to play with several strong players on multiple levels. Being sandwiched between great outside linebackers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin should only lessen the steep learning curve for Lee.
Overall, he seems to be taking everything in stride. While the Raiders took four players off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft before him, Lee has the quickest path to contributing right away of the quintet. The Raiders need him to wear the green dot from the jump.
It’s a gamble that the Raiders have to have trust in giving a rookie this kind of responsibility. However, the Raiders are fortunate to have the offensive fire power to compete in shootouts while Lee gets the defensive play calling duties sorted out. By October, he should be fully caught up to speed with his extra defensive responsibilities.