The Raiders needed to improve their linebacking corps for 2019 and made several moves this offseason, including the signing of veteran free agents Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict.
But defensive coordinator Paul Guenther also is hoping holdover linebackers raise their level of play, too, including Marquel Lee. Lee, who was drafted in the fifth round by Oakland out of Wake Forest in 2017, started six games as a rookie and 10 in 2018, when he played in all 16. Last season, Lee was in on 68 tackles.
But though Lee has shown flashes of promise, especially against the run, he has one significant area of weakness: pass coverage.
According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, receivers guarded by Lee were targeted 25 times in 2018, and 20 times those passes were completed for 252 yards and a touchdown. Plus, Lee often was replaced in passing situations.
But Tafur wrote recently that Guenther addressed the weakness with Lee at the end of last season and asked him to lose weight and get in better shape to be able to provide better pass coverage.
"I told him this is the AFC West, you have to be able to cover," Guenther told Tafur.
Now, Lee is down to 238 pounds – he was about 250 last season – and appears in better shape.
"He looks good," Guenther said. "I told each guy before he left last season the two or three things that they have to improve on. And I was bluntly honest with all of them. And Marquel has come back in great shape. He may be a different guy on the field, too."
Whether that will be enough for Lee to gain significant playing time in 2019 will be determined. With Burfict penciled in at one outside linebacker spot and Marshall in the middle, Lee will be in a battle with Tahir Whitehead, Nick Morrow and James Cower – among others – for the other outside spot.
Head coach Jon Gruden last season praised Lee for his versatility and his team-first attitude. And Lee has said he wants to do whatever he can to get better and contribute.
Late last season, Lee said success entails adjustments, and he’s always ready to adjust and improve.
"That’s what life is about really, being able to adjust, do that something somebody needs you to do," he said. "Just being a team player, trying to take on that role."