Jelani Jenkins

Snap count: Raiders LBs Jenkins, Morrow receive long look inside

Snap count: Raiders LBs Jenkins, Morrow receive long look inside

OAKLAND – Raiders second-year pro Cory James seems set to play most every down at weakside linebacker. He doesn’t yet have a running mate on the inside.

Tyrell Adams was his wingman during the offseason program. Marquel Lee was his primary partner during training camp and in the exhibition opener. The fifth-round middle linebacker started Saturday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams but didn’t last long.

He was removed after opening series, which left an opening for veteran Jelani Jenkins to earn more snaps.

Jenkins played two series with the first unit – he was anchored to the second team in camp -- and played 34 defensive snaps in all. He had six tackles, including two for a loss.

“I think Jelani Jenkins went in there and played pretty well in the second or third series and played the rest of the first half,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I thought he was pretty solid.”

Del Rio has used a platoon in the middle, with Lee in the base package and other options playing in sub packages. The Raiders have used several players in a hybrid coverage linebacker role, one originally set for second-round safety Obi Melifonwu. He missed most of training camp with an undisclosed injury, and the Raiders have experimented with Sean Smith, Keith McGill before he got hurt, and now undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow in that spot.

Morrow took a turn with the first unit, and completed his 26 defensive snaps in the second half.

“Nick, those young guys we gave them an opportunity to compete. He finds the ball a little bit,” Del Rio said. “...Nick, at the end of the game, had a nice breakup. Almost got a pick. Would’ve ended it. Would’ve been nice.”

Morrow finished with two tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass defensed. He was targeted three times in coverage and allowed one catch for five yards.

Playing close to the line of scrimmage is relatively new for Morrow, who played farther back at Greenville College.

“It was an adjustment because I’m used to playing outside of the box,” Morrow said. “I started watching film with some of the vets, and I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable in there.”

While Lee had 40 defensive snaps in the exhibition opener, he only had 11 in the second game. He allowed one 24-yard catch on the opening series and made one tackle, but Del Rio focused on positives for the young linebacker learning on the fly.

“I think he’s actually done some pretty solid things,” Del Rio said. “He’s not the first linebacker to ever get exposed in man coverage, which happened last week. So, I think he’s actually been pretty solid. We have a pretty solid run front and he’s part of that.”

OFFENSE
Quarterback – Connor Cook 25, Derek Carr 17, EJ Manuel 17
Running back – Elijah Hood 13, George Atkinson III 12, DeAndre Washington 12, John Crockett 10, Jalen Richard 7, Marshawn Lynch 4, Jamize Olawale 1
Wide receiver – Johnny Holton 29, Isaac Whitney 24, Jaydon Mickens 22, K.J. Brent 21, Keon Hatcher 18, Amari Cooper 17, Michael Crabtree 16, Cordarrelle Patterson 13, Ishmael Zamora 6
Tight end – Clive Walford 15, Jared Cook 15, Gabe Holmes 11, Pharaoh Brown 11, Lee Smith 10, Ryan O’Malley 8
Offensive line – David Sharpe 38, Jylan Ware 35, Jordan Simmons 35, Ian Silberman 25, Oni Omoile 41, Vadal Alexander 24, Gabe Jackson 24, Kelechi Osemele 24, Rodney Hudson 24, Kareem Are 22, Marshall Newhouse 15, Oni Omoile 13, Jon Feliciano 10, Chauncey Briggs 6

DEFENSE
Defensive line –
James Cowser 33, Eddie Vanderdoes 30, Mario Edwards Jr. 30, Treyvon Hester 28, Denico Autry 27, Khalil Mack 20, Darius Latham 19, Branden Jackson 16, Paul Boyette 11, Justin Ellis 11, Jimmy Bean 4, Fadol Brown 3
Linebacker – Cory James 37, Tyrell Adams 36, Jelani Jenkins 34, Nicholas Morrow 26, Shilique Calhoun 23, Bruce Irvin 20, LaTroy Lewis 14, Marquel Lee 11, Rufus Johnson 11, IK Enemkpali 10, Brady Sheldon 6
Cornerback – TJ Carrie 37, David Amerson 37, Antonio Hamilton 26, Kenneth Durden 26, Sean Smith 26, Dexter McDonald 20, Chris Humes 16, Breon Borders 8
Safety – Karl Joseph 37, Reggie Nelson 37, Shalom Luani 20, Marcus McWilson 20, Anthony Cioffi 16, Rickey Jefferson 16

SPECIAL TEAMS
Tyrell Adams 14, Shalom Luani 13, Shilique Calhoun 11, James Cowser 12, Elijah Hood 10, Nicholas Morrow 10, Jamize Olawale 10, Dexter McDonald 9, DeAndre Washington 9, Xavier Woodson-Luster 9, Marquette King 8, K.J. Brent 8, Isaac Whitney 8, Antonio Hamilton 8, Anthony Cioffi 7, Rickey Jefferson 7, Karl Joseph 6, Jelani Jenkins 6, Clive Walford 5, John Crockett 5, Sebastian Janikowski 5, Andrew East 5, Jalen Richard 5, Breon Borders 5, Marcus McWilson 4, Jaydon Mickens 4, Chris Humes 4, Ryan O’Malley 4, TJ Carrie 4, Darius Latham 3, Gabe Holmes 3, George Atkinson III 3, Eddie Vanderdoes 3, Mario Edwards 3, Treyvon Hester 3, Justin Ellis 3 Denico Autry 3, Jon Condo 3, Jon Feliciano 3, Lee Smith 3, Marshall Newhouse 2, Khalil Mack 2, Bruce Irvin 2, Giorgio Tavecchio 2, Cordarrelle Patterson 2, Vadal Alexander 2, Gabe Jackson 2, Kelechi Osemele 2, David Sharpe 2, Jylan Ware 1, Chauncey Briggs 1, Cory James 1, Oni Omoile 1, Kareem Are 1, Jordan Simmons 1, Ian Silberman 1, Branden Jackson 1, Brady Sheldon 1, Paul Boyette 1

DID NOT PLAY
WR Seth Roberts, CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, DB Keith McGill, OL Denver Kirkland, DL Jihad Ward

Inside linebacker questions remain for Raiders after NFL Draft

Inside linebacker questions remain for Raiders after NFL Draft

Inside linebacker might've been the Raiders most pressing need entering last weekend’s NFL Draft. An unheraleded skeleton crew mans that important position group, yet it wasn’t addressed until the fifth round.

Wake Forest’s Marquel Lee entered the mix at that point, joining free-agent signing Jelani Jenkins and a bunch of kids.

The Raiders remain thin and inexperienced at middle linebacker and on the weak side, positions primarily responsible for coverage and second-level run defense in the Raiders scheme. Jenkins is the only member with more than five starts.

A first-team isn’t set. There aren’t even frontrunners at this point, especially in the middle.

General manager Reggie McKenzie said before the draft he wanted to add "a couple, I hope, before we play (regular season games) in September.”

If Lee is one, another could be coming in free agency. Last year’s starter Perry Riley seems like a logical choice. He played well in 11 starts last season, adding stability to the interior defense. Player and team discussed a reunion earlier this offseason, but couldn’t agree on contract terms.

McKenzie isn’t rushed to add another body. He’d prefer to see what he has on the roster first. He hasn’t seen Jenkins practice in Raiders team drills, Lee work as a professional, Ben Heeney after recovering from ankle surgery or Cory James entering his second season. He hopes starters emerge from that group

Riley could be an option for the right price, though last year he proved willing to wait into the season to sign with a team.

“That’s an ongoing evaluation,” McKenzie said Saturday after the NFL draft. “We’ll see what we got coming in. We’ll have the rookie mini-camp and then we’ll have everybody together. If we need to add someone else, we will. No, I never close the door until it’s time to get the roster together.”

The Raiders have struggled for answers at middle linebacker. Nick Roach played well in 2013, but suffered a career-ending concussion the following preseason. Miles Burris was an ineffective fill-in. Curtis Lofton didn’t work out in 2015, and Heeney couldn’t secure his starting job before breaking an ankle.

The Raiders could get creative on passing downs and use an extra safety, but they hope a young player puts a stranglehold on the middle linebacker spot in the base defense at least.

Jenkins has primarily played weakside linebacker, but McKenzie likes the free agent signing from Miami at both inside spots.

“He’s started a lot in this league,” McKenzie said. “He too, is another guy that’s highly instinctive and aware football player. He plays in space. Now, his game more is the weak inside linebacker, but he’s played both. But, he doesn’t have the same stature as Marquel Lee in size. But, he is a good, physical football player we just wanted to add to the roster. So, he’ll compete with the rest.”

Lee has the potential to be a quality two-down linebacker. He’s 6-foot-3, 240 pounds with the strength and aggression to play inside linebacker well. He has range and says he can cover well.

“I’m a physical player at the line of scrimmage,” Lee said. “I shed blocks really well, so I feel like I can go sideline to sideline as well. Just being a motor type guy. My motor, I don’t see it ever stopping in games. Just being put where I’m best seen fit. Anything I’m asked, I’ll do to help contribute to the team. That’s the type of person I am. You can ask anybody that’s been around me for my whole life. I’m just trying to learn.”

McKenzie told Lee he’ll have a chance to compete for significant playing time as a rookie.

Neiron Ball hasn’t played since his rookie year. The 2015 fifth-round pick flashed briefly before suffering a knee injury that required surgery and kept him out of 2016. They gave his No. 58 away last season, and McKenzie said he still isn’t ready to enter an open competition to play inside linebacker.

“Neiron is still going through rehab,” McKenzie said. “So, it depends on how he feels physically. We feel good about Marquel and whomever else we bring in. We’re just going to let them all compete. Heeney will come back. We got Jelani. We got all the other veterans that were here from last year. We’re just going to let it play out and see how it goes.”

New Raiders LB Jenkins learned how to be resilient during rough 2016

New Raiders LB Jenkins learned how to be resilient during rough 2016

Playing well in a contract year is imperative in the NFL. It gives a current employer reason to re-sign a player with a handsome deal, or makes other teams want to write checks in unrestricted free agency.

That didn’t happen for Jelani Jenkins. His body broke down at the wrong time. Miami’s two-year starting weakside linebacker dealt with ailments that kept him out of seven games in 2016, limiting him to 29 tackles in nine games and seven starts.

That’s a far cry from the 181 tackles recorded in two previous years as a mainstay in the Dolphins defense. The timing was poor for sure. Several teams were interested in Jenkins, but he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Raiders on Monday looking to recover from a rough year on the field.

“I would say that was one of the most frustrating years in my life, especially regarding my career,” Jenkins said. “It just kind of taught me how to be resilient, not get my head down but just keep working, keep trying to get back out there on the field and helping the team as much as I could. But, that definitely taught me to just be resilient and I definitely got a chance to learn my body more and more and what it can take, what it can’t take, when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to keep going. All of that definitely helped.”

Jenkins is expected to play weakside linebacker in silver and black and replace Malcolm Smith, who signed with the 49ers this offseason. That position bears a heavy burden as a primary tackler against the run and a coverage option against receiving running backs and tight ends.

“It’s something I’ve had to do even since my time in college,” the University of Florida alum said. “It’s something that they asked me to do. I’ve been on teams with a lot of great tight ends and running backs. So I’ve had to cover them every day in practice. I think that helps.”

Jenkins is excited to contribute to a team on the rise, and hopes to capitalize on a year as a major contributor on the Raiders defense.

“It’s definitely a team that’s getting better and better every year,” Jenkins said. “They have a defense with a lot of talent on it. They play fast. They play hard. They play tough. They play with a lot of energy. You can tell by looking at film that they have a lot of fun. That’s something that I pride myself on, is energy and just enjoying the game. It seemed like a great fit.”