NAPA – Middle linebacker Marquel Lee spent the Raiders offseason program working with the second unit. The fifth-round rookie got promoted on Saturday, during training camp's first practice.
He's worked with the first unit three straight days over Tyrell Adams, and hopes to answer the team's biggest question mark heading into the regular season. The Raiders are lacking at inside linebacker, without much depth or experience in the middle or on the weak side.
Head coach Jack Del Rio said this offseason the Raiders hadn't "adequately addressed" the middle linebacker spot, and the team hasn't added another body since. There are veterans on the open market, including 2016 starter Perry Riley, but the Raiders have chosen to focus on those already on the roster thus far.
"You work to put a football team together and I think, in a strong way, we've addressed a lot of different positions," Del Rio said after Tuesday's practice. "We really haven't had attacked that one the same way. That's not to say we won't. It's just you can only do so much each year and that's just the way it's worked out. We've got a collection of young guys right now that are eager. They're learning, they're developing and we're going to work with these guys and we'll find out."
Lee will have a shot to earn a starting spot this summer. The Wake Forest product has the tangibles required of the position, but must to prove technically consistent and mentally adept playing a crucial position.
"Everyone's goal is to start," Lee said. "That's been my goal for a while. It's a progressive thing. It's the first week of camp, so it's important to get better every day and be consistent."
Lee is a quick study, and thirsty for knowledge. He's become a sponge around defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., an All-Pro middle linebacker as a player and a lauded position coach.
Lee and Norton talk football constantly away from the practice field, hoping to pick up tricks of the trade.
"I'm learning from Coach Norton every day," Lee said. "I'm having conversations every day with him, picking his mind all the time. We have our talks twice or three times a day. Going to him and learning has been key. He understands I'm a rookie, and we have to work well with each other."
Norton likes his new pupil and has seen good things thus far.
"You can't give him enough work," Norton said Monday. "He's always asking for more. He's very coachable. Really like his development at this point. … We're very happy with the development and where he's is at this point."
Lee has to convince coaches he's the best middle linebacker of this bunch, and dissuade the front office from signing a veteran.
"I think he's done a pretty good job thus far of showing that he's a pretty good learner and he's got a good presence about him," Del Rio said. "We'll see how that grows and whether or not he can earn that. He's going to get every opportunity to compete for it. I know that he definitely sees himself as that guy. We like that. It really doesn't matter once you get here how you got here. Whether he's a high pick or a lower pick, he's got a spot here at camp, he's got on opportunity to show us what he's all about. I think he's been pretty solid to start camp."
-- Tight ends had a strong day on Tuesday. Jared Cook made an excellent catch in traffic and withstood a strong shoulder from Karl Joseph. Lee Smith also had a touchdown catch from EJ Manuel, after which Derek Carr charged 80 yards downfield to congratulate him.
It's clear from those moments and many others that tight ends will be a bigger part of the offense than years past.
-- WR Amari Cooper missed Tuesday's practice with an undisclosed injury, though his ailment is believed to be minor.
-- Strong safety Karl Joseph continues playing more aggressively in camp, often putting his shoulder into receivers during practice. Those taps will be full blown hits in games. He looks more confident than last year, and is always around the ball.
-- Reicever Cordarrelle Patterson continued his strong camp Tuesday, this time while working with the first unit for a sidelined Amari Cooper.
-- Head coach Jack Del Rio thought Tuesday's effort was a bit sloppy, with too many turnovers and penalties.
-- The Raiders will be off on Wednesday and return to practice on Thursday.