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.
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.