The Oakland Raiders placed Lee Smith on the reserve/injured list Wednesday afternoon, all but ending the veteran tight end's second season as a Raider just four games into the regular season.
Through the first quarter of 2016, Smith caught six passes for 29 yards, and while his stats might not necessarily pop off the stat sheet, his value to the offense both in the run game and pass protection is hard to overstate.
Plain and simple, his loss is a big one that will be felt by the entire offense, and the void he now leaves will take several players to fill.
"It'll take several people, in all likelihood, to fill his shoes because of all that he did, mainly the dirty work," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio Monday. "Mainly the blocking, the dirty work. Kind of an unsung hero kind of role where he's just very tough, very determined. Yeah, we'll miss him for sure, but like we do, we'll plug in."
As Head Coach Del Rio alluded, Smith was a dominant force as a blocker, oftentimes serving as a de facto extra lineman at the line of scrimmage, and his injury hit home for the members of the Raiders offensive line.
"We're going to miss him," rookie lineman Vadal Alexander said. "He's going to be with us, still around here, just not on the field. It's definitely going to be something – we're going to play for him, play in his honor, and approach the preparation like he always did."
Alexander also spoke about just how much Smith meant to the offensive unit, even though his stats might not have been the most impressive at first glance.
"He definitely was the glue for a lot of things we did offensively," Alexander explained. "He was a great piece to this offense, and we're going to have to find ways to do the same things. It's going to take a collective effort to do the things he did, and so we're definitely going to find a way to do it, just like we find a way to do everything we've done this season so far on the offense line with guys going down and stuff. It's something that we're going to have to work for, and put the work in to do."
"He was that guy, that you probably wouldn't see him," added running back Jalen Richard. "It was almost kind of like how the linemen don't get too much flashiness. They're down there in the trenches, working hard, and making the little things work, so that the guys like us who most of the time get most of the love, make us look good. Like I said, he took that with pride, and he would do the little, gritty things, do the dirty work, and again, we're just looking for the next guy to step up and fill the void."
As valuable as Smith was in supporting the run game, he also played a vital role in pass protection, and that mantle will now have to be picked up by several players on the offensive side of the football.
"All of us work together to keep 'DC' [Carr] off the ground, offensive [line], RBs [running backs] and tight ends, so now we really have to lock in," Richard said. It's going to take more than one guy. It's going to take a collection of guys, multiple guys stepping up in the tight end room."
In a corresponding move, after the team placed Smith on injured reserve, they also activated tight end Ryan O'Malley from the practice squad.
S – Nate Allen – Quad – Did not participate
T – Austin Howard – Ankle – Limited
RB – Taiwan Jones – Knee – Limited
T – Matt McCants – Knee – Limited
RB – Latavius Murray – Toe – Did not participate
LB – Malcolm Smith – Quad – Did not participate
TE – Clive Walford – Knee – Did not participate
T – Menelik Watson – Calf – Did not participate
-After missing all of last week's practices, tackle Austin Howard was back on the field in a limited capacity, as was tackle Matt McCants. However, tackle Menelik Watson remained sidelined, and was not able to participate in Wednesday's session.
-Linebacker Perry Riley, Jr,. signed with the Silver and Black Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoon he went through his first practice as a Raider. The former Washington Redskin is wearing No. 54.
-While running back Taiwan Jones was able to return to practice Wednesday, the same could not be said for Latavius Murray who missed practice with a toe injury.
Carr talks about wide receiver Michael Crabtree:
"He was so committed to running the routes how I wanted it done, he was so committed to our relationship being right. He was so committed to making sure he made so many plays for me that I would always look his way, that's what he wants and so far he's done that, man. You have to give him credit. The guy's worked his tail off and he's super competitive to get to where he's at to where if it's one-on-one, he's a great matchup."
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