Whether deliberate or by chance, Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio are set to live with the growing pains of the Oakland Raiders rookies.
The general manager and head coach work in unison and both concur that neophyte inside linebacker Marquel Lee and tackle Eddie Vanderdoes are the best options as starters at their respective position.
Lee has the requisite size and physicality of a prototype middle linebacker. He just has to catch up mentally. Vanderdoes, on the other hand, has the required violence and kick-yo-ass attitude for a wrecker of a defensive tackle. He too needs to get caught up on NFL mind games.
“I was waiting for that question,” Del Rio smiled during his weekly meet the press session. “I can’t wait to see our guys. We’ll see. We put a lot of time and effort in developing our guys. THat will remain a story until it’s not. He’s doing well, we’ll let that unfold. We’re looking forward to rolling out or guys. We’ll put our team against their team, that’s what we do on Sunday.”
He wasn’t done crowing.
“I think the great story about Eddie is how fast he transitioned in for a guy who didn’t get much of an offseason into a guy who really applied himself early in camp,” Del Rio said of Vanderdoes. “He showed up early in camp and never really took a step back. He’s kind of been full-speed ahead.
“Both of those guys have earned their positions. We’re looking forward to watching them play.”
Much to the chagrin of Raider Nation, McKenzie did not make any moves to add to the middle linebacker fray. Instead, Lee will get the green light with Tyrell Adams backing him up, according to the Raiders Week 1 depth chart. Cory James, who started at inside backer last season as a rook, shifts to the weakside and undrafted free agent (an excellent story, as well) Nicholas Morrow is behind him.
On the front four, Vanderdoes joins nose tackle Justin Ellis as starters. Steady Eddie is backed up by fellow promising rookie Treyvon Hester while Darius Latham flanks Ellis.
Learning on the job is a sound way to improve personnel in many industries. With only 16 regular-season games, the rabid fan base’s patience will be very thin. While McKenzie and Del Rio are content on living with the growing pains of starting a fifth-round rook at middle linebacker, the murmurs of “incompetence” will grow if Lee does not make an immediate (positive) impact.
Lee and Vanderdoes fill the wrong gap, miss a tackle, and make a mistake, Raider Nation’s venom will be pointed at the head coach and GM.
And yes, it is bewildering to see McKenzie, Del Rio, and even Ken Norton Jr. — all linebackers in the NFL — unable to land, coach and transform players into stout Mike linebackers.
Del Rio has shown he’s got a quick hook. He pulled ineffective starters and put in the backups without blinking an eye. Expect other rookies — Hester, Morrow, Shalom Luani and Gareon Conley (if healthy) — to see snaps as the Raiders prefer to deploy multiple personnel and formations.
While Del Rio did say he’s more confident in his defense than most, he dropped a dime of reality immediately after the seemingly daydream positivity.
“Talk is cheap. There’s no sense in proclaiming anything,” Del Rio said. “We put in a lot of hard work and we have a group of guys who are looking forward to the challenges.”