The Devin Hester Conundrum

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The Devin Hester Conundrum

ALAMEDA -- The last time the Raiders faced Chicago and electric returner Devin Hester, on Nov. 11, 2007, Shane Lechler punted the ball right at him and dared Hester to bust one free.This time around?"As far as I'm concerned, no, it's not the same attitude right now," Lechler said Wednesday. "That guy's too dangerous. With them getting a new quarterback in there, (Hester's) going to be the big-play guy. I'm not sure yet what we're going to do, but I'm going to try to at least make him run sideways early, and we'll go from there."CSNChicago: Hester held out of practice Thursday
Four years ago, Hester returned six of Lechler's nine punts -- two were downed and a third went out of bounds -- for a total of just 14 yards, with a long return of nine yards.
Indeed, Lechler and the Raiders kept Hester in check that day (his 64-yard return was nullified by a holding penalty on Brendon Ayanbadejo). And still, Lechler fears letting him get the Bears going on Sunday at the O.co Coliseum. And for good reason.In his sixth season, Hester is now the NFL's all-time career leader in punt returns for touchdowns with 12 and also has five kickoff returns for scores. Including the playoffs, he has 19 career total return TDs (12 punt return, six kickoff return, one missed field-goal return) to tie him with Deion Sanders for most in league history."Hester has a lot of good guys playing around him," Lechler added. "Watching them on film, they all play hard. The thing is, that punt return unit believes they're going to take it to the house every time he gets the ball. When you're playing with that much belief, you're very dangerous. We're going to do our very best to neutralize that part of the game."Hester's career-best 21.2 yards average on punt returns this season is leading the NFL and he already has two returns for TDs. The Raiders have surrendered the most punt return yardage in the league and have the fifth-worst average at 14.5 yards.
"A guy like Hester, man, you've got to respect, first and foremost," said Raiders receiver Louis Murphy, who has also found work as a gunner on Oakland's punt team. "You've got to respect what he's done in this league, who he is, and you've got to go out there and try and contain him, try and stop him."Quentin Groves agreed."As a coverage unit and as a special teams unit, you live for these challenges," Groves said. "If you want to be the best, and that's what we pride ourselves onyou're going to have to go against the best in the league. And right now, he's the best in the league."Mike Mitchell, though, had a differing opinionsomewhat."He's the best besides Jacoby (Ford), you can quote that, too," Mitchell said. "Extremely fast, he has great vision and his blockers really do a great job blocking for him, too. It's not a lot of times you see him making guys miss. He's getting great blocks and then he might break one tackle."Mitchell does not want to shy away from Hester and agreed with Bears coach Lovie Smith's assessment that coaches cannot tell their players to not kick it to Hester, lest it affect his own team's confidence."Not a chance," Mitchell said. "I mean, if you're a man."As a punt unit, I feel like we have the best weapon in the league in Shane Lechler. We're going to punt to anybody. I don't think we're afraid to punt to a specific player. Like we said this week getting ready for this game, he has to play us. We don't have to play him. He has to worry more about 11 guys trying to take his head off than we do about him housing one."The Raiders have surrendered two punt returns for scores this season, a 90-yarder by Denver's Eric Decker in the season opener at Denver and an 85-yarder by the Broncos' Eddie Royal on Nov. 6.So Raiders special team coach John Fassel has some serious scheming to do. Not that Mitchell wants to deviate from the plan up to this point."We have the biggest, fastest guys in the league covering our punts," Mitchell said. "We just have to get down field and outrun their protection team and make tackles. After (Hester) gets machine-gunned a couple of times, he's not going to be too quick to return punts."Im not talking any trash eitherI think he's awesome. But our mentality is, he has to play us."Then the Raiders have to punt the ball to Hester.

Raiders sign rookie OT Sharpe, LB Lee, all four seventh-round draft picks

Raiders sign rookie OT Sharpe, LB Lee, all four seventh-round draft picks

The Raiders signed several members of their 2017 draft class, the team announced on Friday. Later round picks put pen to paper following the first week of OTAs, which began on Monday.

Fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and fifth-round linebacker Marquel Lee highlight this group of signings, as both players inked four-year rookie contracts.

All four seventh-round picks also signed their first professional contract. That group includes running back Elijah Hood, safety Shalom Luani, offensive lineman Jylan Ware and defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.

These deals aren’t hard to work out. The NFL and the league’s players union agreed on a rookie wage scale in the last collective bargaining agreement that slots salaries by draft order, which leaves little negotiating room within the set payment structure.

The team’s top picks remain unsigned, though they’ll get done in time. First round cornerback Gareon Conley, second-round safety Obi Melifonwu and third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remain unsigned.

Here’s a list of estimated contract values over a four-year rookie deal for each signed draft pick, per spotrac.com:

OT David Sharpe (No. 129 overall): $2,986,415 total; $586,415 signing bonus
LB Marquel Lee (No. 168 overall): $2,653,693 total; $253,693 signing bonus
S Shalom Luani (No. 221 overall): $2,494,414 total; $94,414 signing bonus
OT Jylan Ware (No. 231 overall): $2,484,295 total; $84,295 signing bonus
RB Elijah Hood (No. 242 overall): $2,469,750 total; $69,750 signing bonus
DT Treyvon Hester (No. 244 overall): $2,468,601 total; $69,750 signing bonus

Marquel Lee gets to play for his father's favorite team: 'He started bawling'

Marquel Lee gets to play for his father's favorite team: 'He started bawling'

ALAMEDA -- Marquel Lee’s NFL draft weekend wasn’t always fun, a byproduct of high hopes unrealized. The former Wake Forest linebacker wanted to go early, but slid into Saturday and waited well into the fifth round before his phone lifted spirits.

A 510 area code brought Lee out of an emotional rut, one so deep he started wondering whether he’d get drafted at all.

“When I got the call from the Raiders, everything changed,” Lee said in the latest episode of NBC Sports California’s Raiders Insider Podcast. “I was so excited to play for this organization.”

Marquel Lee wasn’t the only one. His father jumped over the moon.

“He might’ve been more excited than I was,” Marquel Lee said. “He started bawling. I’ve never seen my dad cry like that.”

Corey Lee’s tears don’t come easy. He’s a no-nonsense military man who served 11 years in the Navy before entering the private sector. He was a strict but fair father and football coach who instilled the discipline and work ethic required for his son to realize great potential.

Corey Lee is also a lifelong Raiders fan. Seeing his son get drafted by his favorite team created a perfect emotional storm.

“I’m as die-hard as they get,” Corey Lee said. “When they called his name in the fifth round, it was such a great, powerful moment. There was some relief, because he worked so hard and sacrificed to reach this point. When families were on vacation, we were in summer camps and working out hard.

“Everything we did was to prepare him for the next level. I was so proud to see him achieve a goal he had.”

Corey Lee didn’t break down completely when Marquel Lee officially became the Raiders’ fifth-round selection. This proud papa let emotion overcome for a beat, and then darted for his bedroom. He returned to the party with a brand new Raiders hat and a No. 89 Amari Cooper shirt from his vast Raiders collection.

Marquel Lee threw on dad’s gear to honor his new team and the golden opportunity to play for a linebacker-starved Raiders team.

That wasn’t Marquel Lee’s first time in silver and black. He rocked a full Raiders uniform at age 2, complete with a helmet, football pants and a Tim Brown jersey.

He donned one again when rookies reported to the Raiders offseason program earlier this month. The full-circle moment wasn’t lost on Marquel, a man proud of his past and excited about an NFL future.

“There’s a picture of me in a Raiders jersey, pants and a helmet on my second birthday,” he said. “I look at it now and think, ‘Wow. It really happened.’ I’m wearing a Raiders uniform for real. My dream is becoming a reality.”

Corey Lee grew up a Raiders fan in Southern California, going to games with his family at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Pardon Marquel for not following in those footsteps. He grew up on the East Coast when Donovan McNabb was a superstar and gravitated toward the Eagles. Ray Lewis performed in Lee’s Maryland backyard and became an athletic role model.

Marquel watched tons of NFL football with his dad, complete games where father and son would talk about strategy and scheme. Marquel would watch game tape with his father at an early age and when Corey Lee deployed with the Navy, his mother Katanya – she, too, understood football -- made sure that practice continued.

Marquel Lee was armed with natural athletic gifts and cultivated knowledge of the game, allowing him play quarterback and middle linebacker as a junior at Westlake High in Waldorf, Md. His dad was a guiding light as youth instructor, a JV head coach and a varsity linebackers coach, but took steps to separate family and football.

“As a father, I never would allow him to call me dad on a practice field or anywhere,” Corey Lee said. “I was always ‘Coach’ during the season, whether we were at home or at practice, because I wanted to keep him in that mindset.”

Football was a primary focus back then, when the family often traded summer vacations for skills camps. Despite buzz around Marquel’s talents, Corey was against his son doing interviews with recruiting websites or ranking services. Father wanted his son’s head on straight, and it has remained that way. 

Top schools were slow to come around, but gravitated after Marquel fully recovered from a torn patella and stood out early in his senior year. He chose Wake Forest, a commitment his father wanted upheld even with late interest from other programs.

His growth continued as a collegian, and took a real spike during the 2016 season. Wake Forest’s defensive captains graduated, leaving him to assume a leadership role and put team over stats. Lee considered his junior season at Wake Forest subpar, and vowed to do better.

“I was pressing a lot, trying to rush my time and trying to get to the NFL,” Lee said. “I was on a road where I thought I wanted to leave (school) early. I was so hard on myself, especially if I didn’t produce. That’s why I said it was subpar. I don’t think I played like a team player that year.

“(The next season) I made a decision to finish what I started and be the leader I always knew I could be. I wanted to help my team get to a bowl game. I hadn’t played in one. That was a major part of me coming back in 2016. … I grew up a lot. I feel like I gained respect as a team leader, and really understood what it took to own that responsibility.”

Lee might have major responsibilities as an NFL rookie. The Raiders don’t have many options at middle linebacker, and Lee will be allowed to compete for a starting spot. It’ll take a solid spring and summer to earn it and give the Raiders confidence to hand an important starting spot to a rookie. The Silver and Black could add a veteran to that position group, though they have high hopes for their fifth-round pick. Lee could well make an instant impact. 

“We definitely think he has the potential to start,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in an interview with 95.7-The Game. “He’s a long ways away from that. We haven’t even begun to get the pads on, so a lot will be determined in training camp and the preseason. So far, he has looked very good.”

Lee considers himself well prepared for the challenges ahead, and believes he can compete at the professional level.

“I’ve been getting ready for this a long time,” Marquel Lee said. “My dad has been telling me that this experience will be different. It’s not like college anymore. It’s a job, and I have to be mentally prepared for everything I’m about to do. I’m here and I’m learning and I’m trying to do my best.”