The Raiders assessed a lot of needs this offseason, yet still enter training camp with a giant question at middle linebacker.
The position may be the weakest link on the entire team going into a new season. As recently as a few weeks ago, Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com wrote that general manager Reggie McKenzie may still be eager to sign a veteran free agent to fill the spot.
Yet head coach Jack Del Rio said Tuesday in an interview on 95.7 The Game that he’s optimistic a player already on the roster will emerge to take leadership at the position.
“We’ve got some young guys that are excited about the opportunity to compete there,” said Del Rio. “I think that we’ll just let them compete and let it work itself out. We drafted a young man, Marquel [Lee], and we got a couple guys returning like Cory James. We’ll let them compete, see where it goes. I feel like when I look at us as a football team I think we’ve strengthened ourselves and really fortified ourselves in many, many positions.”
Lee, a fifth-round pick, could emerge as training camp and the exhibition season unfold. Lee, from Wake Forest, is a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference choice selection last season. He tested as the second strongest linebacker at the NFL Combine, and McKenzie said at the time of the draft he believes Lee has the potential to start as a rookie.
Another candidate is Ben Heeney, who missed last season because of injuries (and will start camp on the injured list). Also in the hunt is Tyrell Adams, a former Oakland practice-squad player and special teamer from West Georgia last season who often played with the first-team unit during organized team activities and minicamp this spring.
At times this spring, Adams looked good and showed a nose for the football on both passing and running plays.
In June, Adams made it clear he’s eager for the opportunity, tweeting: “When you finally get the opportunity you’ve been praying for, will you be prepared? #GoForTheKill”.