NAPA George Kittle Jersey , Calif. (AP) — Marquel Lee wasn’t quite ready to end the revolving door at middle linebacker for the Oakland Raiders when he was thrown into the starting lineup to start his rookie season last year.
With a year of experience and a defensive scheme that better suits his game, Lee is doing his best to seize that role this season even after the Raiders brought in veteran Derrick Johnson to be the likely starter.
Lee has spent most of training camp as Oakland’s middle linebacker in the base defense and was one of the team’s best defensive players in the exhibition opener last week against Detroit when he had three solo tackles and two assists in just 15 snaps.
“There is a guy that really stepped up,” coach Jon Gruden said. “He had a great game. He’s physical. I think he’s more and more of a complete linebacker. He’s getting more comfortable in pass coverage. I think he’s a presence in the middle of our defense right now. It’s something that is not going unnoticed with his teammates and coaches.”
Lee showed signs of being stout against the run when he started the first five games last year as a fifth-round draft pick. But he struggled in coverage and the Raiders brought in veteran NaVorro Bowman to take over as starter in Week 6 and Lee played only sparingly the rest of the way.
But Lee looks like a different player in year two and Gruden said he sees the potential for him to become a three-down linebacker. Lee said he feels much more confident in coach Paul Guenther’s defense than he did last year when Ken Norton Jr. was coordinator.
“I’m playing faster,” Lee said. “I’m seeing things faster and diagnosing things and playing with more instinct. I’m more comfortable in the defense. I know where I need to be, which allows me to fit the run well and just make plays.”
The Raiders signed veteran Derrick Johnson in May with the thought of making him the starter but Lee has gotten more time so far in camp with Johnson playing a limited role in sub packages.
Finding a middle linebacker has been difficult for Oakland in recent years.
The Raiders drafted Rolando McClain in the first round in 2010 with hopes he would solidify that spot for years to come. But McClain lost his starting job midway through the 2012 season and the Raiders have been searching for a long-term answer ever since.
Nick Roach filled that role in 2013 but then suffered a career-ending concussion the following preseason. Miles Burris took over in 2014 but wasn’t up to the task and the Raiders signed Curtis Lofton the following season.
Lofton struggled in the passing game and wasn’t brought back the following season when Ben Heeney started the year as the starter before Perry Riley was brought in off the waiver wire midway through the year.
The Raiders made a midseason switch again last year after Lee began the year as the starter. Bowman was signed after being released by San Francisco and finished the year as the starter.
Oakland overhauled the position this offseason, signing Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lamur, who have been starting on the outside, as well as adding Johnson.
Lamur played for Guenther in Cincinnati and has helped his teammates make the transition to a new system.
“I feel like we’ve had a chance to grow as a core together, going through offseason workouts, and then summer workouts, and then into training camp,” Lee said. “Just being around each other all the time and stuff, grow as a core, we have each other’s backs out there. Also having Emmanuel Bengals Elite Jerseys , he’s been in the system for a long time, since he came out of college. He’s a great help. He knows the ins and outs, and if we have a question we go to him — or any of the guys — but Emmanuel for sure knows the ins and outs of this defense.”
NOTES: CB Daryl Worley, WR Seth Roberts and WR Martavis Bryant all returned to practice. Bryant had missed two days with an illness. “We’re calling Martavis the ‘White Tiger,'” Gruden said. “Thirteen times I went to Busch Gardens. The white tiger was always in his cage. Well, the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out. I don’t know if you get that analogy, but sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s good to see because he’s really special like the white tiger.” … The Raiders claimed DT Gabe Wright off waivers from Miami and placed DT Ahtyba Rubin on injured reserve.
The Predators have the Presidents’ Trophy, and the NHL-expansion Golden Knights carry the buzz entering the Western Conference playoffs, which have the potential of resembling nothing from the past.
So step aside Chicago, which missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and say bye to the Blues, whose six-year playoff run is over.
The changing of the West’s guard begins at the top, where Nashville clinched its first Central Division title by running away with the league’s best record. And then there’s Vegas, which broke every measureable NHL expansion record for success by going 51-24-7 to win the Pacific Division.
Add in the talent-laden Winnipeg Jets Andrew Shaw Jersey , making their franchise’s third playoff appearance, and youth-filled Colorado Avalanche, who clinched their second berth in eight years, and it results in three of four first-time postseason matchups: Nashville versus Colorado, Vegas versus Los Angeles and Winnipeg facing Minnesota.
The fourth matchup has Anaheim facing San Jose for only the second time after the Ducks eliminated the Sharks in six games during a 2009 first-round series.
Of the eight teams, only three have won the Stanley Cup (Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles), while two have never won a playoff game (Vegas and Winnipeg, formerly Atlanta).
The weight of expectations falls mostly on the Predators , who won’t be underestimated a year after the eighth-seeded team’s surge to the Final ended in a six-game loss to Pittsburgh. It was a run Nashville began against Chicago in becoming the first team to sweep a No. 1 seed in the opening round since the current playoff format was set in 1994.
”I think our guys are well aware of what went on last year,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. ”For me, this group is looking down the tunnel at something, and all that other stuff is noise.”
That’s not to say Laviolette didn’t play the ”everyone’s picking Chicago” card as motivation a year ago.
”I might have used it,” he said with a wink.
The Avalanche know their history http://www.officialislanders.com/authentic-adidas-adam-pelech-jersey , with forward Gabriel Landeskog listing how several No. 8 seeds have made deep playoff runs, including the 2012 Cup champion Kings.
”Anything can happen in the playoffs. That’s kind of the mindset we’ve had,” Landeskog said of the Avalanche , who enjoyed a 47-point turnaround after finishing last a year ago. ”This is a big accomplishment to make after such a tough season. We’re not done.”
PREDATORS vs AVALANCHE
Nashville finished seventh in the league with 261 goals without any player scoring 30. The Predators’ balanced attack is fueled by a group of speedy, playmaking defensemen who combined for a league-best 206 points (56 goals, 150 assists). Pekka Rinne went 42-13-4 to finish third in victories, and his 2.31 goals-against average was third among goalies playing 40 or more games.
Though Nashville has won 10 straight against Colorado, beware of the Presidents’ Trophy curse. Of the 31 teams to finish first since 1986 when the trophy was established, only eight have won the Cup, the last being Chicago in 2013.
Nathan MacKinnon entered the MVP discussion by leading Colorado with 97 points, including a league-leading 12 game-winning goals. Colorado tied with Arizona with the youngest roster at 25.8 years old.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS vs KINGS
A Golden Knights team put together with other teams’ discards spent the season using a ”why not us?” mantra in setting expansion-team records for most wins (51), home wins (29), road wins (22) and longest point streak (10-0-2). Vegas features six 20-goal-scorers, including trade-deadline addition Tomas Tatar.
The Golden Knights closed the season 6-3-2 http://www.bearsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-roquan-smith-jersey , with the regulation losses coming against non-playoff teams: Arizona, Edmonton and Calgary. Marc Andre-Fleury went 29-13-4, but allowed six goals on 18 shots in a season-ending 7-1 loss at Calgary.
The defensive-minded Kings allowed a league-low 202 goals and had the league’s best penalty-killing unit. Jonathan Quick’s 2.40 goals-against average was sixth among goalies appearing in 40 games.
JETS vs WILD
The Jets closed their most successful season in both victories and points on a 20-5-1 run, including winning the final nine home games. Winnipeg is still searching for its first playoff victory after being swept in two previous appearances: by Anaheim in 2015, and by the Rangers in 2007, when Jets were based in Atlanta.
Paul Stastny’s trade-deadline addition provided the NHL’s second-best offense with six 50-plus point producers. Third-year goalie Connor Hellebuyck went 44-11-9, and broke the single-season record for victories by U.S.-born goalies set by Tom Barrasso.
The Wild limp into their sixth straight playoff appearance with defensemen Ryan Suter (broken right ankle) and Jared Spurgeon (torn right hamstring) sidelined, though Spurgeon is expected back from a 17-game absence in this series. Eric Staal’s 76 points (42 goals, 34 assists) were third-most in team history.
DUCKS vs SHARKS
The Ducks earned home-ice advantage with a 3-0 season-ending win over Arizona, coupled with the Sharks’ season-ending 6-3 loss to Minnesota. Anaheim went 25-10-4 since the bye break, and is 14-1-2 at home since Jan. 23. Goalie John Gibson went 21-7-3 in his final 31 decisions, but missed the final week and is listed day to day with an upper body injury.
The Sharks went 19-13-3 over their final 35 games since Joe Thornton was sidelined with a knee injury. Martin Jones allowed five goals on 19 shots against Minnesota, and is 1-4 in his past five while allowing 17 g http://www.officialusafootballs.com/baltimore-ravens