Marquel Lee

Nicholas Morrow's role will increase with Raiders MLB Lee out

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USATSI

Nicholas Morrow's role will increase with Raiders MLB Lee out

ALAMEDA – The Raiders lost both starting inside linebackers to injury against Baltimore.

Cory James missed the second half with a knee injury. Marquel Lee went down late with an ankle sprain.

They’ll get James back in time to host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon. Lee, however, isn’t ready. He was ruled out Friday afternoon on the team’s official injury report, leaving an already young, thin and undersized position group down a man.

Someone has to step up. Nicholas Morrow is that guy.

The undrafted rookie is expected to start in Lee’s place, and could end up a three-down linebacker against the Chargers.

Morrow typically plays significant snaps, entering in sub packages as a coverage linebacker. He’ll be asked to do more against L.A.

While it’s a new challenge, Morrow is ready for it.

“It’s a bit more defense to learn. I’m generally involved in the sub package, but I’ve been preparing to play in the base defense all summer,” Morrow said. “This week’s more of a refresher than it is learning something new.”

James has been coming in early and staying late getting physically ready for this pivotal Chargers game. The second-year pro had arthroscopic knee surgery this preseason but was able to return in time to start games that count, and has been a three-down linebacker on the weak side. He’s second on the team with 34 tackles, and has a forced fumble to his credit.

Losing James for any stretch would be a significant blow considering how young and thin the Raiders are on the inside, but he’s expected to rebound and play without restraint.

James needs a partner in the base defense with Lee out – the rookie’s a better run defender than you think -- and Morrow will get first crack at the job. Rookie Xavier Woodson-Luster, who has focused on special teams, can play there as well.

“Nick has been doing what he’s supposed to do, doing everything he can to be ready,” James said. “All the guys in the locker room have faith in guys stepping up with Marquel out right now, and believe they can get the job done.”

Morrow’s size may give some fans pause. The Greenville College alum is but 216 pounds, viewed more as a hybrid linebacker/defensive back. Lee, by contrast, is prototypical linebacker at 235.

Morrow and others must handle the run, especially dealing with often productive Chargers back Melvin Gordon.

He feels up to the task, despite being smaller than your standard linebacker.

“Regardless of size, you have to know your run fits and play with smart technique,” Morrow said. “If you do that and play with heart, you’re going to be fine.”

Carr taken off injury report

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr will start Sunday’s game against the Chargers, as expected. He was a full participant in Friday’s light practice and was formally taken off the team’s injury report.

There was no doubt Carr would play, even after being limited in Wednesday and Thursday practices. He was given a green light by trainers heading into Week 6, and will return two weeks after suffering a transverse process fracture in his back.

“He’ll be ready to play,” Del Rio said. “I think it was smart to give him the week, which we did. Even though he was pushing for last week. He’s cleared to go and got the green light. Doctors and trainers all gave him the go. He had a full week of practice for the most part, so we’re ready to go.”

Melifonwu nearing return

Raiders second-round safety Obi Melifonwu is on injured reserve with a knee injury. Del Rio said there’s a “strong likelihood,” he’ll be ready for activation soon.

Melifonwu can practice after the Chargers game and play after playing the Buffalo Bills in Week 8. He could meet both deadlines.

He’s expected to practice next week, and might be ready to contribute when eligible.

The Radiers can designate two players to return off IR. Offensive lineman Denver Krikland is another candidate, though Del Rio didn’t address the second-year pro directly in his Friday comments. Kirkland said last month that he’ll be ready to return this season.

Melifonwu could help the Raiders cover tight ends and running backs in the sub package.

Injury report

The Raiders ruled Lee, fullback Jamize Olawale (concussion), cornerbacks Antonio Hamilton (knee) and Gareon Conley (shin) out of the Chargers clash.

James, cornerback David Amerson (shoulder) and running back DeAndre Washington (hamstring) were designated questionable on the team’s official injury report.

Snap count: Injuries leave Raiders razor thin at several spots

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AP

Snap count: Injuries leave Raiders razor thin at several spots

OAKLAND – Raiders personnel packages don’t vary much at this stage of the season. The same players man the same packages, with the depth chart largely set after some early-season experimentation.

Injury, however, has chipped away a predictable patterns. That’s especially true on defense, where the Raiders were forced make do with healthy bodies available.

The Raiders knew they’d work without cornerbacks David Amerson and Gareon Conley. Those guys were ruled inactive before kickoff.

They had to adjust on the fly at linebacker during Sunday’s 30-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Starters Cory James (knee) and Marquel Lee (ankle) were lost in the second half, and there’s no guarantee either will return to play next week.

That forced Tyrell Adams into action. He finished with 36 defensive snaps after only playing special teams in the two previous games. Nicholas Morrow played significant reps next to him, especially when Lee was lost late.

The Raiders have two healthy inside linebackers right now. They only had three healthy cornerbacks during the game, after Antonio Hamilton hurt his knee on the opening kickoff.

A thin secondary kept veteran Sean Smith on the field, which hurt the defensive effort. He allowed three receptions for 114 yards on three targets, including two deep strikes to Mike Wallace.

The Raiders finished with just two healthy running backs. DeAndre Washington was inactive with a hamstring injury and fullback Jamize Olawale was concussed, leaving Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard to man the backfield.

That pair fared well, with versatility to handle every situation. Lynch finished with 43 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Richard had 37 yards on nine carries.

OFFENSE
Quarterback –EJ Manuel 56
Running back – Marshawn Lynch 23, Jamize Olawale 17, DeAndre Washington 6, Jalen Richard 6, Jamize Olawale
Wide receiver – Amari Cooper 55, Seth Roberts 50, Michael Crabtree 36, Cordarelle Patterson 19, Johnny Holton 4
Tight end – Jared Cook 34, live Walford 13, Lee Smith 12
Offensive line –Kelechi Osemele 56, Rodney Hudson 56, Donald Penn 56, Marshall Newhouse 56, Jon Feliciano 56, Vadal Alexander 1

DEFENSE
Defensive line – Khalil Mack 57, Justin Ellis 43, Mario Edwards 42, Denico Autry 37, Eddie Vanderdoes 31, Treyvon Hester 19, Darius Latham 15, James Cowser 14
Linebacker – Bruce Irvin 49, Tyrell Adams 36, Cory James 34, Nicholas Morrow 33, Marquel Lee 31
Cornerback – TJ Carrie 62, Sean Smith 62, Dexter McDonald 25
Safety – Reggie Nelson 66, Karl Joseph 62, Keith McGill 6, Shalom Luani 2

SPECIAL TEAMS
Tyrell Adams 24, James Cowser 24, Keith McGill 24, Shalom Luani 20, Erik Harris 17, Johnny Holton 12, Jamize Olawale 12, TJ Carrie 11, Cordarrelle Patterson 11, Jalen Richard 9, Lee Smith 9, Dexter McDonald 9, Nicholas Morrow 8, Marquel Lee 8, Darius Latham, Xavier Woodson-Luster 8, Khalil Mack 7, Mario Edwards 7, Eddie Vanderdoes, Treyvon Hester 7, Jon Condo, Giorgio Tavecchio 7, Marquette King 7, Denico Autry 6, Clive Walford 4, Karl Joseph 4, Kelechi Osemele 3, Marshall Newhouse 3, Rodney Hudson 3, Jon Feliciano 3, Vadal Alexander 3, Justin Ellis 3, Jared Cook 1, Antonio Hamilton 1.

INACTIVE
CB Gareon Conley, QB Derek Carr, OT Jylan Ware, RB DeAndre Washington, CB David Amerson, RG Gabe Jackson, DL Jihad Ward

Marquel Lee has been preparing his whole athletic life for this moment

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USATI

Marquel Lee has been preparing his whole athletic life for this moment

ALAMEDA – Marquel Lee insists he won’t be nervous before Sunday’s game at Tennessee, dream realization be damned.

The Raiders rookie middle linebacker will be juiced. That’s unavoidable. He’ll make his regular-season debut on the road, in the starting lineup, for a team with lofty expectations.

That won’t induce anxiety. Lee has been preparing his whole athletic life for this moment. He knows that studying hard helps pass the test and calm the nerves.

“It’s my first NFL game,” Lee said Wednesday. “I’ll be excited, but you have to find a way to channel it. It’s important I stay focused this week on everything. I feel like, if I’m well prepared, I’ll do my best.”

That’s a mantra instilled by Corey Lee early on. Marquel’s father preached preparation to a young son while coaching him from youth football through high school. (Read more about that here).

It was something Lee took seriously in his first NFL camp. The Raiders’ fifth-round pick had resources available and no Wake Forest class schedule demanding time, so he immersed himself in the Raiders scheme.

“It helped a ton,” Lee said. “In college, you only had a few meetings per day. Here, football is your life. I had a lot of time to spend studying, and I spent a ton of time doing it. All the extra time has helped me understand the system. You learn it, you act it out in walk-throughs and then you ramp it up to practice speed and then carry it over to the game.”

He spent downtime in training camp pouring over material with linebackers coach Sal Sunseri. Lee attached himself to defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s hip, trying to absorb knowledge from the former All-Pro middle linebacker.

“Marquel, he’s very talented,” Norton said. “He has big body, he’s really smart and cares a lot. When you combine the care with the passion and the talent and a guy who really wants to learn, my experience you get a lot of good things from the players.”

That was the Raiders’ hope early on. Lee was promoted to the first unit at the start of training camp, giving him as much time as possible to work with starters and rep against an explosive Raiders offense. There was a real possibility Lee would have to start right away.

The Raiders are shockingly inexperienced at inside linebacker, especially with Jelani Jenkins – the team’s lone defensive free-agent signing -- off the roster following an injury settlement. Lee’s getting ready to play his first game. Weakside linebacker Cory James has five starts to his credit. Backups Tyrell Adams and Nicholas Morrow are tied with Lee at zero.

That’s not ideal heading into a 2017 season where defense must improve to reach lofty internal and external expectations. It’s the situation facing Raiders defensive coaches, who have pushed to develop young talent.

Head coach Jack Del Rio has been quick to note football’s a team sport, takes 11 to execute a play right. Neither credit nor blame should fall on one guy. That’s accurate. The Raiders will use several different personnel combinations aimed to accentuate strengths. To that end, Lee should only be active in the base defense. In those moments, he must fill an important role.

He’s in charge of making pre-snap checks and calls, no easy task against a Tennessee offense that aims to confuse with motion and misdirection. Lee likely won’t get every call right against the Titans, but it’s important the Raiders still act as one and remain on the same page.

Strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin offered sage advice for those instances. Have a short memory. Believe in yourself and your reads.

“The biggest thing is being confident,” Irvin said. “Marquel is the (middle linebacker), so he’s basically the D.C. of the defense. He has the mic. He calls the plays. As a younger guy in charge of the defense, you have to be confident. You make a call, you go with the call. You can’t be out there confused, ‘is it left? is it right?’ Make the call, play the call. That’s the biggest thing. Just be confident.

"At the end of the day, it’s still football. We’ve been playing this game all our lives. Just go play.”