A new era dawns for the Raiders

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A new era dawns for the Raiders

NAPA -- The field is still 100 yards long and 53 13 yards wide. The end zones are still 10 yards deep and, of course, the colors remain Silver and Black.So yes, the more some things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Raiders. But make no mistake, there is a decidedly different feel in these parts.After all, the Raiders enter the first practice of training camp Monday without Al Davis for the first time since the Kennedy Administration and, as Associated Press pointed out, only one-third of the 89 players on the camp roster have played a single game with the Raiders before Davis passed away last Oct. 8.There's still a Davis in the owner's box, Al's son Mark, but he has bequeathed all football-related decisions to new general manager Reggie McKenzie, and McKenzie wants the new coach, 39-year-old Dennis Allen, to become the face of the team."See, Reggie got his guy," Mark Davis said upon Allen's hiring, "I got my guy -- I got Reggie."Allen is the Raiders' first defensive-minded head coach since John Madden was hired in 1969 and as he embarks on a new era in Oakland, he is mindful to pay heed to the more successful past of the late owner, who came to Oakland in 1963 as coach and general manager."I think what he did here with the Raiders organization and how he built the organization, the loyalty that he's created within the organization, makes this one of the best organizations in sports to get an opportunity to work for," Allen said."I'm excited about trying to meet the standards that are here in the Bay Area for the Raiders. We won't do everything exactly the way it (was) done before. We'll put our own stamp on it, but I'm excited about working for the Raiders."McKenzie, who played linebacker for the Raiders in Los Angeles from 1985 through 1988 and cut his personnel teeth in Green Bay, has slowly but surely retooled the organization from within, from updating the organization's computer systems to revamping the scouting department.Both men, though, have their sights set on making the Raiders a more disciplined team in the wake of setting league records with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards last season.In fact, players now have to sign in for meals at camp."They're (trying) to change the discipline factor, I guess," said strong safety Tyvon Branch."With the new G.M. and the whole new regime coming in with a new mindset, the coaching change, that's what they're preaching right now -- we're changing the culture. So we're just going along for the ride, following the leaders."But can added accountability and punctuality make a difference between the hash marks?"I think it will," said running back Darren McFadden. "Just knowing where to be, and being there at the right time and being there on time, that is one main thing for us. And I feel like by tightening things down is going to help guys and translate onto the field."A healthy McFadden -- he is coming off missing basically 10 games with a Lis Franc injury to his right foot and has missed at least three due to injury in all four of his seasons -- will be a boon to the offense, as well as quarterback Carson Palmer -- the two have yet to take a single in-game snap together in the same backfield -- having a full offseason with the team as the Raiders return to offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's version of the West Coast Offense with a zone-blocking scheme."Seeing Carson before, I knew he was going to be a good quarterback," McFadden said. "And I had seen him play several times before, so it was not a big deal. It was just a matter of him getting back into the groove of things, I think."Said Palmer: "I love all the boots and play-actions and all the nakeds and keepers. I'm real excited to do that and really, those are the things that are going to help the run game."The late Davis, while always professing his affinity for the vertical passing game, seemed to take more of an interest in the defense in his later years, insisting the Raiders play a 4-3 scheme with few, if any, blitzes, and man-to-man coverage sensibilities.Now? Free safety Michael Huff may have ruffled feathers earlier this summer by saying he was looking forward to playing in a "real defense" under the new regime."Well, nothing personal but, obviously, before with Al, rest in peace, he had his hands in all the defense," Huff said. "He had all his little things he liked to do. Now, with D.A. out there, we've got all kinds of blitzes. We've got 3-4, 4-3 fronts. Just a lot of different variety and a lot of different things going on."So, I'm going to love it."Coming off a pair of 8-8 seasons in which they just missed the playoffs, the Raiders have not had a winning year since the 2002 Super Bowl season and had a record run of seven straight years with at least 11 losses. Expecting a return to greatness after a decade of despair might be asking for too much, what with so many new and moving parts at the top of the food chain.But the future looks promising and there is stability at the top as the McKenzie-Allen Era begins anew."Yeah, jacked up about it," Allen said. "We're ready. It's a start of a long journey and we'll take it. I know this is cliche, but we'll take it one day at a time and we'll attack whatever challenges come up on a day-by-day basis and deal with them and keep pushing forward."

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.”