“He’s a natural,” Defensive Coordinator, Ken Norton Jr said. “He’s played that middle linebacker for his whole football career. We like him. Big shoulders, long, really loves contact. You can’t give him enough work. He’s always asking for more. He’s very coachable. Really like his development at this point. . . we’ve asked him to show us a little bit more on the physical side and he’s done that. We’re very happy with the development and where he’s is at this point.”
Norton has been investing a lot of time in Lee this offseason. And he hinted this week that he sees Lee in the same mold as some other great linebackers Norton has developed over the years.
Since camp began, Lee has eagerly gleaned whatever he could from the former star NFL linebacker and longtime linebacker’s coach, with the two speaking two or three times a day by Lee’s count.
It’s clear he is firmly in the Raiders’ immediate plans. Del Rio said as much on Tuesday, saying among other things that Lee has “a good presence about him.”
“He’s going to get every opportunity to compete for it,” Del Rio said of the starting middle linebacker spot. “I know that he definitely sees himself as that guy. We like that. It really doesn’t matter once you get here how you got here. Whether he’s a high pick or a lower pick, he’s got a spot here at camp, he’s got on opportunity to show us what he’s all about. I think he’s been pretty solid to start camp.”
Lee wasn’t inserted as the first team middle linebacker right away after being drafted. He ran with the second team throughout the offseason. He didn’t find out he would be the first team guy until the first day of training camp.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I take it along with the challenge,” said Lee. “Just happy that I get the opportunity. That’s what this game is about is opportunity and taking advantage of that. Just coming out and doing the best I can with the ones.”
Just working with the ones has helped Lee to elevate his game, because, they are all counting on him to be the quarterback of the defense.
Taking on such a major role as a rookie is not easy. Derek Carr made that clear his rookie season. It can be intimidating trying to tell veteran leaders like Khalil Mack and Reggie Nelson where to be. But he has impressed them.
“He’s a hell of a player,” said Mack. “I can see it already. He has that juice in him and that’s something that I kind of talked to him just to see where his mind is at. We’re going to figure out throughout the camp and when we put the pads on, that’s when you really get to figure out what type of player you’re dealing with.”
This kind of support makes Lee’s job is made much easier.
“Khalil up front,” Lee continued, “he gives me confidence ‘Come on, rook. Let’s go, let’s go, you gotta go, rook, let’s go’. That gives me a boost, letting me know I can’t slack off with this group. This is the ones and this is the real deal.”
The middle linebacker job is now Lee’s to lose. And there isn’t a lot of strong competition behind him to take it. There’s a pretty clear path for him to being the starter come the start of the season.
“Everybody’s goal is to start. That’s been my goal for a while,” Lee continued. “Just coming in here, I wanna start. It’s a progressive thing. We’re on our first week of camp, so just keeping working every day, that’s my mindset, getting better every day.”