Staying healthy at the linebacker position has been a dilemma for the Oakland Raiders this season.
For weeks now, the Silver and Black have asked Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow to battle through their own ailments because the team has been severely thin since losing Vontaze Burfict (suspension) and Marquel Lee (Injured Reserve) earlier this season; however, the group could be getting Lee back in the near future.
Lee was placed on IR back in late-September – following the Minnesota Vikings game – and is now close to being activated. For the last couple of months, the former Wake Forest linebacker has been rehabbing and taking things one day at a time, but he now feels like he's ready to get back on the field.
"I was looking forward to coming back," Lee told reporters Monday. "I had to set a goal for myself, trainer had to set a goal for me, [General Manager Mike] Mayock set a goal for me to come back this week. So, that's what I've been working towards, so I think we're going to be able to accomplish it."
While the third-year player feels like he's capable of giving it a go this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Head Coach Jon Gruden tempered expectations for No. 52 just a bit during his Monday press conference.
"I don't know that he'll be back this week, but he'll be back soon, either this week or next," Gruden said. "With Hunter's injury we have to obviously look at what to do at that position. That's a big concern right now. Getting Marquel [Lee] back will be a good boost for us. Hopefully we'll get Lamarcus Joyner back. That would certainly help. So, I'll keep you updated as I find these things out."
Injuries haven't been kind to the Raiders this season and they've caused Gruden and the coaching staff to make adjustments on the fly. It's hard to build continuity and chemistry as a unit when a new player joins the fold mid-season, but Lee's return would certainly add some familiarity to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's system.
In his eyes, Lee was never worried about making a return to the active roster, considering his ankle injury is reminiscent to what he suffered his rookie year. His rehab process was still grueling, but it wasn't foreign territory to the 24-year-old.
"I kind of had the same injury my rookie year, so I had a feeling I'd be able to come back from it," he explained. "I mean, I had no doubt in my mind that I would rehab to get back and performing, and things of that nature. It was just a matter of how long it was going to take."
The clock is ticking for Lee's return, as the team needs to activate him before Sunday if he's to return from IR this season. Chances are the team will do so, but his availability for Sunday's division matchup is up in the air at this juncture, but his return should come in the near future, and the team needs him.