Plot Marquel Lee’s snap counts through the first quarter of 2018, and the data will look like a stock on the rise.
With 24 snaps Week 1, 25 Week 2, then 28 against the Miami Dolphins, the second-year linebacker saw his biggest defensive output of the year Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns, playing 64 defensive snaps, in addition to his 34 on special teams.
“I think he’s been improving every week,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther of Lee. “He’s gotten more snaps every week. He’s a smart guy. He understands all the calls. He understands the grand scheme of things on the defense. He’s gotten better every week and that’s why he’s earned more snaps.”
In total, Lee finished the Week 4 thriller – a 45-42 Raiders overtime win – third on the team with nine tackles, as well as two passes defensed, in what was likely the most complete game of his young career.
“So far yeah, that’s probably been my best I’ve gone, but I’m not satisfied with that,” Lee explained. “I left a lot of plays on the field. We can get better as a defense. I mean, giving up 42 points, it’s really unacceptable, to be honest. Just trying to get back in, and get back to work.”
While surrendering 42 points in a game won’t result in wins most of the time, during the course of the 68 minutes of game action, Lee and the Raiders defense did show glimpses of being the type of unit they hope to be in 2018.
With two interceptions, and two forced fumbles – along with two sacks – the Silver and Black’s defense certainly had its moments against the Browns, and according to Lee, that’s a testament to the group continuing to gel.
“Definitely growing, and still growing,” Lee said. “We still have a lot of stuff to work on, but I feel like we’re coming together at a good time, and it’s much needed.”
“We’ve played as good as some defenses I’ve been around in spurts,” added Guenther. “Again, the big plays that we’re giving up. I think they said there was 12 plays, 12 or 14 plays over 12 yards. Everything else was under. We made some big stops in that game in critical situations. Obviously, the turnovers helped quite a bit in there. You got a stop there with 30 seconds left when the game is tied. Then you got to go back out in overtime and stop and get the ball back to the offense. I keep telling our guys, our offense is going to move the ball and score. We just have to get it back to them and not give up the long ones.”
And to be fair, with as much roster turnover as the Raiders have gone through since the offseason, it’s understandable that it would take a little time for the group to catch its collective stride though.
Key to that process was the younger players on the roster – Lee included – stepping up, and through the first quarter of 2018, it’s been encouraging to see just that.
“Coach Gruden, from Day 1, since he’s got here, he challenged the rookie players, and the second-year players to step up and contribute, be contributors,” Lee explained. “He really put an emphasis on it this week, this past week, he just said we needed to step up, and I feel like the young guys played good.”
The likes of Lee, Gareon Conley, and Maurice Hurst, just to name a few have led the youth movement for the Silver and Black this year, but for every young player that’s contributing, there’s also a veteran on the roster, in their ear, helping bridge to the gap between youth and experience.
“A lot of those guys have played in the system before, so it’s a great help, and they know Coach Guenther, and what he’s thinking, and what he wants, and things of that nature,” Lee said. “So it’s a great help, to be honest. It’s amazing, I’m grateful that they’re here, just ready to play some more football.”
Lee has played in just 17 games, but through those 17 games, he’s learned a plethora about the pro game, and at this point, it’s all about building on his performance each week, and growing more comfortable with what is asked of him by Paul Guenther.
“The game speed has slowed down a lot, just out there working,” Lee explained. “I definitely feel different. I’m more comfortable this year than I was last year, by far, and I feel like my play has shown it.”
Lee has indeed shown an improvement from his rookie campaign to Year 2, and he’ll get his next chance to continue that improvement Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.
Hit the practice field with the Raiders players and coaches as they prepare to take on the Chargers in Week 5.