Raiders-Lions: Matchups to watch

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Raiders-Lions: Matchups to watch

ALAMEDA -- The last time the Raiders suffered a pair of disheartening defeats it appeared as though they were circling the drain -- home losses to Kansas City and Denver by a cumulative 66-24. However, they responded by winning three straight games.Do they have it in them again, after getting pummeled at Miami and Green by by a combined 80-30 and with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread?We should know right away as the Raiders (7-6) face a near mirror-image in the Detroit Lions (8-5) as both compete for playoff spots.Both are penalty-prone teams who have athletes up and down their respective rosters but share issues in stopping the run. The Raiders are allowing an NFL-worst 5.2 yards per carry; the Lions, 5.1 yards per carry. Only eight teams have allowed more than five yards per carry since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.A look, then, at some key on-field matchups to watch Sunday afternoon from the O.co Coliseum:Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (26) vs. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson (81).TALE OF THE TAPERoutt: 6-1, 195, Houston, seventh season
Johnson: 6-5, 236, Georgia Tech, fifth seasonSuch an integral part of the Lions offense is Johnson, that alarm bells have started to sound in the Motor City over his relative lack of production over the last three games. Of course, grabbing 13 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in a three-game stretch would make for a good season in some parts.Just not in a town where the game-changing pass catcher is known as "Megatron."And therein lies the challenge for Routt.Johnson might be the most physically gifted receiver in the NFL, so rarely do teams rely on one-on-one coverage to limit the damage caused by him. Rather, they slide a safety over to help out said cornerback."I just play whatever is called," Routt said. "Whatever the D-coordinator wants to do, I'm fine with it. It's not my defense. I always play what is called. As far as help, if I got it I got it, if I don't I don't. I still have to make the play no matter what. I don't really get into all that. I just play football."Routt has three interceptions this season, which is tied for the team lead with safety Matt Giordano.Johnson has 72 catches (sixth-most in the NFL) for 1,121 yards (fourth-most) and 12 touchdowns (second-most). So it's not as if Johnson is having a down year."Whatever the definition of a diva wide receiver is, Calvin's the opposite of that," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "He's a team-first guy, he's sort of a mild-mannered guy off the field. But the one thing is, we don't have any Randy (Moss)-ratios or anything like that as far as getting Calvin Johnson the ball. We obviously want to get him the ball; he's one of our better players. We have other good players around him and sometimes defenses will take the approach of trying to take Calvin completely out of the game."With that being said, even with their gameplans, he's still been able to get the ball. Nobody's shut him out...Calvin's having a great year."The Raiders, then, need Routt to have a great game."I don't think he's really bothered by much," Routt said of Johnson. "I don't think any receiver likes being hit. Hell, I don't like being hit. I don't really see too many weaknesses in his game. He definitely has a lot to bring to the tablehis speed, obviously, his height. When you combine those together, it's a tough matchup for most corners."Other matchups worth watching:
Raiders right guard Cooper Carlisle (66) vs. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) -- Carlisle just might be the most laid back of the Raiders offensive linemen.He's going to have to kick it up against the 6-feet-4, 307-pound Suh, who was voted the NFL's third-meanest player in a Sports Illustrated players poll last month and who is coming off his two-game suspension for stomping Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving."He's obviously a good player, had a lot of success in a short period of time in the NFL," Carlisle said of Suh. "I think his greatest attribute is probably his power. He does a lot with his strength and his power."As a rookie, Suh had 10 sacks and was named defensive rookie of the year, as well as All-Pro. This season, Suh has just three sacks while being, as his supporters claim, targeted by the referees."His penalty on Thanksgiving was the first penalty that he's gotten that's been truly an after-the-whistle penalty, where he lost his composure," Schwartz said of Suh."Other than that, I really can't speak on what his perception is. I know he's a good football player, he's a good teammate, and we're glad to have him on our team."Which is why the 6-5, 295-pound Carlisle laughed when asked if he'd antagonize a player with such a purported hair-trigger temper."I don't think so," Carlisle said. "I don't think so."Then again, the best way for Carlisle and the Raiders to neutralize Suh as a pass rusher would be to establish the run, so that quarterback Carson Palmer is not dropping back and becoming even more of a target. Otherwise, center Samson Satele is going to have to slide over and help Carlisle."The position (Suh) plays allows for some double-teams because he's kind of in the middle there and not necessarily on the edge in one-on-one situations a lot," Palmer said. "He splits double-teams, he pushes double-teams out of the way. He's a guy that we're very focused on, and we're going to understand where he's at at all times. And you have to because he's a heck of a player."Raiders and Lions vs referees -- In leading the NFL in penalties (130) and penalty yards (1,116), the Raiders remain on pace to set new league records for both (160 for 1,374, which would eclipse the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs' mark of 158 for 1,304).The Lions are not far behind, having been flagged 105 times for 894 yards.The interesting nugget, though, comes courtesy of STATS Inc. -- the Raiders and Lions are tied for the league lead in personal fouls with 27.So the refs are certainly going to be busy in a game that promises to resemble an old-school WWF battle royal, no?"Hopefully not," Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch said with a laugh. "Hopefully just for them."We're walking a thin line here, man. Our aggressive play seems to be too aggressive, it seems like. They always seem to flag us for them but hey, man, that's the nature of the game."It's well-documented that both of these teams are physical teams and we walk that thin line. But it is what it is, man. It's not going to change the way we play."Then there's this: the Raiders have given opponents 45 first downs via penalty, 11 off the record set by those 1998 Chiefs. And of those free first downs, 16 have led to scores.

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.”