Marquel Lee will get a chance this week to begin proving he deserves to start at middle linebacker.
When the Raiders open their three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday, Lee – a fifth-round pick from Wake Forest in the recent NFL draft – will try to show he should be penciled in as the starter in 2017, despite the competition from holdovers Ben Heeney, Cory James and Tyrell Adams.
To date, the competition is wide open. Heeney played well in 2015 before an injury limited him to just four games in 2016. James started fives times in 2016 among his 16 games as a rookie. For now, it appears Lee, Heeney and James will be the front-runners to win the starting role at a position many believe is the weakest on the Raiders defense going into the new season.
During recent organized team activities, Lee appeared to take a leadership role when he was on the field and in the defensive huddle. If that also translates to the type of performance he had at Wake Forest, where the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder had 105 tackles (including 20 for loss) and 7½ sacks in 2016, the Raiders may have found the player they need at the position.
Lee says he’s always been a leader and is ready to be one now, even among more experienced players. He says he can’t afford to play like a rookie, even though he is one.
“It’s been on my mind a lot, just being that guy that can’t play like a rookie,” Lee told Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com. “You can’t be. You can’t operate like a rookie right now, you have to operate like you’re a pro, like you’re a vet, like you’ve been here before. … Just learning the ropes from the guys that are in here, just trying to do my best to contribute to this team.”
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has said he believes Lee has the potential to start.
“A lot will be determined between training camp and preseason,” McKenzie said, “but so far he’s looked very well.”
With a solid three days in minicamp this week, Lee could take another big step heading into the start of training camp in late July.