ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Marquel Lee has no plans to apologize for his scuffle last week with Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates late in the fourth quarter.
If anything, Lee is adamant he did the right thing even though it resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and a quick admonishment from Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
“He just told me I’m better than that,” Lee said. “I was defending myself. Guy had my helmet. I don’t care who you are, you’re not going to chump me or punk me. I’m a grown man, too. Coach Gruden was just like, ‘Keep your cool. You’re better than that.’”
A fifth-round pick in 2017, Lee is proving to be better than many people thought. His dust-up with Gates was one of the few signs that Oakland’s defense still had some fight in it during the 26-10 loss that dropped the Raiders to 1-4.
Lee has taken quickly to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system and played well enough over the first month of the season to unseat 14-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Derrick Johnson as the team’s starter.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks in London, Lee is third on the Raiders in tackles behind linebacker Tahir Whitehead and safety Marcus Gilchrist.
“He’s done some good things,” Guenther said. “He’s progressing in the right direction. Obviously he is playing a lot now so we are counting on him.”
It’s a stark contrast from a year ago when Lee had to be carted off the field with a right knee injury that sidelined him for two weeks. Already behind the learning curve at the time, the injury prevented Lee from making much of an impact and led to the Raiders signing NaVorro Bowman to play middle linebacker the rest of the season.
Bowman wasn’t re-signed this past offseason but Oakland brought in Johnson, the former Kansas City Chiefs star, and penciled him into the starting lineup early in training camp.
Johnson started the first game of the regular season and took the majority of reps in Week 2 before Lee forced a change with his consistent work in practice and games.
“I noticed it a lot with my play,” Lee said. “Just not as much anxiety on myself, and not much panic. Playing calm, to be honest. Just seeing everything slower and making my plays when I need to.”
The Raiders are 30th in total defense and have had a penchant for allowing big plays. Lee has made his share of mistakes, most notably blitzing against the Chargers on a screen play when it wasn’t called for. The result: a 34-yard gain on a day full of breakdowns by Oakland’s defense.
“The margin for error is small in this game,” Lee said. “I feel like we have a great sense of urgency, especially after last week’s loss, seeing the plays that we gave up and could have held onto to win the game.”
The Raiders don’t seem to mind the growing pains with their young inside linebacker. Lee’s progress on defense while also playing extensively on special teams has been a positive in an otherwise disappointing start for the team.
Lee’s challenge this week will be trying to contain Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
“We know that he’s a good scrambler and he makes plays in the open field,” Lee said. “We plan to keep him in the pocket and keep him corralled, not give him much room to run because that’s when he’s most dangerous, when he’s out of the pocket.”
Notes: The Raiders held a brief and light practice Thursday before departing for London where they will play the Seahawks at Wembley Stadium. … Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) missed a third consecutive day of practice. Jon Feliciano has been practicing in Osemele’s place. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (neck) also sat out Thursday.