Marquel Lee has been preparing his whole athletic life for this moment


Marquel Lee has been preparing his whole athletic life for this moment

ALAMEDA – Marquel Lee insists he won’t be nervous before Sunday’s game at Tennessee, dream realization be damned.

The Raiders rookie middle linebacker will be juiced. That’s unavoidable. He’ll make his regular-season debut on the road, in the starting lineup, for a team with lofty expectations.

That won’t induce anxiety. Lee has been preparing his whole athletic life for this moment. He knows that studying hard helps pass the test and calm the nerves.

“It’s my first NFL game,” Lee said Wednesday. “I’ll be excited, but you have to find a way to channel it. It’s important I stay focused this week on everything. I feel like, if I’m well prepared, I’ll do my best.”

That’s a mantra instilled by Corey Lee early on. Marquel’s father preached preparation to a young son while coaching him from youth football through high school. (Read more about that here).

It was something Lee took seriously in his first NFL camp. The Raiders’ fifth-round pick had resources available and no Wake Forest class schedule demanding time, so he immersed himself in the Raiders scheme.

“It helped a ton,” Lee said. “In college, you only had a few meetings per day. Here, football is your life. I had a lot of time to spend studying, and I spent a ton of time doing it. All the extra time has helped me understand the system. You learn it, you act it out in walk-throughs and then you ramp it up to practice speed and then carry it over to the game.”

He spent downtime in training camp pouring over material with linebackers coach Sal Sunseri. Lee attached himself to defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s hip, trying to absorb knowledge from the former All-Pro middle linebacker.

“Marquel, he’s very talented,” Norton said. “He has big body, he’s really smart and cares a lot. When you combine the care with the passion and the talent and a guy who really wants to learn, my experience you get a lot of good things from the players.”

That was the Raiders’ hope early on. Lee was promoted to the first unit at the start of training camp, giving him as much time as possible to work with starters and rep against an explosive Raiders offense. There was a real possibility Lee would have to start right away.

The Raiders are shockingly inexperienced at inside linebacker, especially with Jelani Jenkins – the team’s lone defensive free-agent signing -- off the roster following an injury settlement. Lee’s getting ready to play his first game. Weakside linebacker Cory James has five starts to his credit. Backups Tyrell Adams and Nicholas Morrow are tied with Lee at zero.

That’s not ideal heading into a 2017 season where defense must improve to reach lofty internal and external expectations. It’s the situation facing Raiders defensive coaches, who have pushed to develop young talent.

Head coach Jack Del Rio has been quick to note football’s a team sport, takes 11 to execute a play right. Neither credit nor blame should fall on one guy. That’s accurate. The Raiders will use several different personnel combinations aimed to accentuate strengths. To that end, Lee should only be active in the base defense. In those moments, he must fill an important role.

He’s in charge of making pre-snap checks and calls, no easy task against a Tennessee offense that aims to confuse with motion and misdirection. Lee likely won’t get every call right against the Titans, but it’s important the Raiders still act as one and remain on the same page.

Strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin offered sage advice for those instances. Have a short memory. Believe in yourself and your reads.

“The biggest thing is being confident,” Irvin said. “Marquel is the (middle linebacker), so he’s basically the D.C. of the defense. He has the mic. He calls the plays. As a younger guy in charge of the defense, you have to be confident. You make a call, you go with the call. You can’t be out there confused, ‘is it left? is it right?’ Make the call, play the call. That’s the biggest thing. Just be confident.

"At the end of the day, it’s still football. We’ve been playing this game all our lives. Just go play.”

Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain


Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Raiders are remarkably healthy heading into Sunday night’s game against the Washington football club.

The entire 53-man roster practiced fully on Friday, before heading to the nation’s capital.

That includes veteran cornerback Sean Smith, who missed the previous game with a neck injury. A shoulder ailment cropped up during the week, which prompted the Raiders to label him questionable heading into Week 3. Smith’s the only Raider on the injury report, and even he’s in decent shape.

“I mean we put it on there because there’s still a little bit of a question,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “You don’t have probable’s anymore. Given the choices, I just left him that way.”

That means the Raiders are going to have some healthy scratches a week after Smith was the only injured player sitting out.

Washington has some impact players on the mend. That included tight end Jordan Reed, who is questionable with a rib/sternum injury. He stands 6-foot-2, 246 pounds and is the type of receiving tight end that gives the Raiders fits. He has 1,638 yards 17 touchdowns the last two seasons, using good hands and a large frame to create mismatches in the secondary.

It’ll be key for the Raiders to defend him well if he’s active, with Nicholas Morrow as a primary coverage option.

“We’re prepared to face him,” Del Rio said. “We think he’s a good player. We’ll approach it that way and adjust if he doesn’t go.”

Washington also lists starting inside linebacker Mason Foster and running back Rob Kelley as questionable.

Raiders Injury Report
CB Sean Smith (neck/shoulder)

Washington Injury Report

TE Jordan Reed (rib/sternum), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), RB Rob Kelley (rib), S Monate Nicholson (shoulder), CB Josh Norman (shoulder)

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”