It’s just days into Raiders training camp and rookie Marquel Lee already has moved up into the middle linebacker position on the first defensive unit.
Lee, a fifth-round draft pick from Wake Forest, replaced Tyrell Adams with the starting unit in training camp in Napa.
There’s no guarantee Lee will stay there or win the job. There’s still plenty of speculation that Oakland could eventually sign a veteran cut by another team near the end of the exhibition season.
But, so far, the Raiders like what they see of Lee, and Lee is eager to make the best of his new opportunity.
“I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, but I wasn’t expecting it,” Lee told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. "I take it along with the challenge. Just happy that I’ve got the opportunity. That’s what this game is all about – opportunity and taking advantage of that. Just coming out and doing the best that I can with the ones.”
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters this week he’s been impressed by Lee’s ability to quickly learn as well as his leadership. He said he likes the fact Lee believes he can be the team’s solution to a middle-linebacking problem from 2016.
“I know that he definitely sees himself as that guy,” Del Rio told Gutierrez.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., too, has spoken highly of Lee in the first few days of camp.
“He’s a natural,” Norton said Monday. “He’s played that middle linebacker for his whole football career. We like him. Big shoulders, long, really loves contact. You can’t give him enough work. He’s always asking for more. He’s very coachable. Really like his development at this point.”
The Raiders won’t truly know how he’s coming along, of course, until they put him on the field against another team. He’ll get his first action in the exhibition opener Aug. 12 against the Cardinals in Arizona.
But NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack already is vouching for the rookie’s ability.
“He’s a hell of a player,” Mack told Gutierrez. “I can see it already. He has that juice in him."