The Oakland Raiders' Week 12 trip to Baltimore to face the Ravens means a little bit more to Marquel Lee than it might to most.
Fifty-three miles south of M&T Bank Stadium, Lee grew up in the town of Waldorf, Md., where he attended Westlake High School. You might assume he grew up in a Ravens household, but Lee's father is a proud and outspoken Raiders fan, and this weekend his father along with several members of his family will watch him take the field.
The 23-year-old has seen a marked improvement in his second NFL season, and earlier this year several of his teammates said he's one of the most-improved players on the team. Lee has started in eight games this year, has 50 tackles, three quarterback hits, and two passes defensed. Something that doesn't show up in the stat sheet however, is the leadership role that he's slowly growing in to.
"It's kind of natural to me," Lee said Wednesday. "I was captain of all my teams coming up into the league. It's a bit of a natural feel, but just having guys believe, especially getting that win last week. Just keep on building team morale, team camaraderie, through pregame speeches getting pregame speeches."
Last week's win over the Arizona Cardinals was a morale boost for the locker room, as the Raiders departed the desert with a last-second win against rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. This week, the defense will face another talented rookie signal-caller, Lamar Jackson, someone Lee is all too familiar with.
"Three years in a row [I faced him at Wake Forest], so it's going to be fun to do it again," Lee said with a smile. "We've got a little grudge match, but it should be fun. He's just a human highlight reel, but his athleticism puts him in another level, but he's still human. We're going to prepare for him the best we can, and just play football."
Lee is playing some of the best football of his young career, and he's doing anything/everything the coaching staff asks of him. Whether he's lined up at MIKE or SAM linebacker position, he's excelling at both, and Head Coach Jon Gruden is pleased with his effort thus far.
"You know what, he's played two really good games," Gruden said. "He's physical, he can play on the tight end. He has shown that he can recognize passing concepts. He's good in zone coverage and he's improved in man coverage. I think he's going to be a load as a blitzer and he's just a young guy that has proven he's a very versatile linebacker. We appreciate him doing that to open the door for [Jason] Cabinda, to get him on the field. So, he has been unselfish too."
The unselfish mindset of "we before me" is a mentality Lee has prided himself on, and as Gruden said, it's opened the opportunity for other players to improve. He's focused on doing his one-eleventh each and every week, and he knows he's just a piece of making the defense a successful unit.
If you watch Lee play, it's clear he plays with passion; whether it's after a tackle, a batted pass, or just supporting his teammates, the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon isn't afraid to flex and let out a roar. He loves the game, and for that reason he never holds back, which is why he thinks he's been able to make the most of his opportunities on the field.
"I think I've done well, doing what they ask me to do. Play hard, doing my one eleventh, just coming in and adjusting," he explained. "That's what life is about really, being able to adjust, do what something somebody needs you to do. Just being a team player, trying to take on that role, and I'm having fun with it.
Lee continued, "Just keeping my head down and playing football. I really have that mindset that when I'm in the game I'm just gonna let it all hang out, know what I'm saying? No holds barred, just let it all hang out, do your one-eleventh, and just make plays when you need it."
When his family is sitting in the stands on Sunday, you can expect to see the same brand of football Lee has played with week-in, and week-out. This game has some added incentive, and with the holidays right around the corner, Lee is grateful to share the weekend with loved ones.
"Just going home feels good, Thanksgiving too, just feels good be around family and stuff like that," he explained. "I'm not going to make any predictions [about his performance Sunday] or anything like that, but I'm going to do my one eleventh."