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ALAMEDA

Quick, who was the last Raiders middle linebacker (in a 4-3 defensive alignment) or inside linebacker (in a 3-4) to make the Pro Bowl?

I will help you stall a little bit by reminding you that this is one of the NFL’s storied franchises, a team that has appeared in five Super Bowls and won three of them. You want wide receivers? By the time you get past Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch and Tim Brown, you’re lobbying for multi-receiver sets. You want cornerbacks? Skip Thomas and Nnamdi Asomugha wouldn’t even get a chance to play the nickel on an all-time Raiders defense.

But inside linebackers? They have been a strange and glaring rarity in Raiders lore. The last one to make the Pro Bowl was Matt Millen, in 1988. He got there one time. The only other inside ’backers so honored, Dan Conners (1966-68) and Archie Matsos (1963), both played in the AFL All-Star Game rather than the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, evidence that we’re talking about a completely different era. Since Millen, the middle of the Raiders defense has been occupied by the game but limited (Kirk Morrison) and the bizarre (Rolando McClain), but mostly by a parade of middling and forgettable performers like Riki Ellison, Joe Kelly, Napoleon Harris, Miles Burris and Malcolm Smith.

Can young Marquel Lee pull the lever that stops the revolving door?

Raiders fans so desperately want him to. As they watched the NFL draft unfold a week ago, many of them were convinced their team would snag a linebacker in the first round, perhaps someone like Alabama’s Reuben Foster or Florida’s Jarrad Davis. It didn’t happen. Rounds 2 and 3 came and went on Day Two, and still Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie had not sprung for a second-level run-stopper.

Twitter became apoplectic. Didn’t McKenzie know the Raiders ranked 23rd in the NFL last year in rushing defense at 117.6 yards per game, and tied for 25th in both yards per carry (4.5) and rushing touchdowns (18) allowed? Did he not watch the Buffalo game? Wasn’t McKenzie himself a Raiders inside linebacker back in the day? Did that mean nothing?

Reggie, what the hell is going on?!

Finally, in Round 5, McKenzie made his move. With the 168th overall pick, the Raiders selected Lee, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound thumper from Wake Forest. Scouts questioned his speed and instincts, but the citizens of Raider Nation were having none of it. They had found their man. Like, on social media, they had found him.

“Yeah, I’ve got over 100 or so DMs, comments and stuff,” Lee said with a laugh Friday.

What were folks saying to him?

“We need a linebacker, congrats. We need a linebacker. Looking for you to plug in this year,” Lee revealed. “Things like that.”

Oh, that’s all. Walk in the door at the age of 21 and make the Raiders into sturdy run defenders. Lee was speaking outdoors at Raiders headquarters, at the makeshift podium the team frequently sets up outside the locker room. The occasion was Oakland’s 2017 rookie mini-camp. For most, it was an introduction to the team, and the NFL.

Dozens of players took the field hoping to make an impression on coaches, schematics from new playbooks flashing through their heads in hazy montages. Some had been drafted, others signed as “priority free agents.” Many were there simply for tryouts; their names weren’t even listed on the rosters handed out to reporters. They are likely to leave as anonymously as they arrived.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio addressed the media after practice, and each of the team’s top five draft picks followed him, one after the other.

The range of demeanors was fascinating.

Cornerback Gareon Conley, the team’s first-rounder, looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else in the world than standing before unfamiliar cameras and recorders; he is currently being investigated by the Cleveland Police Department after an accusation of rape. Safety Obi Melifonwu was upbeat and engaging. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who was labeled as lazy during an unproductive and injury-plagued senior season at UCLA, had a candor tinged with calm defiance. Big offensive tackle David Sharpe was quiet.

Lee was immensely likable. The linebacker seemed confident without boasting, happy without coming across as glib.

Asked what it was like working for a day under voluble defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., Lee said: “I like that. My dad’s been vocal throughout my life. He was my linebackers coach in high school, so I’m used to the yelling-type dude. He’s a real cool guy and I’m looking to learn a lot from him.”

But can Lee provide the answer at linebacker? If the Raiders don’t find a veteran who shakes loose from another team between now and September, he is likely to vie for playing time with Jelani Jenkins, Ben Heeney, James Cowser, Cory James and Neiron Bell — and perhaps Perry Riley Jr. if he decides not to retire.

Lee has every reason to be optimistic. But the fans ready to anoint him as the next Dan Conners, or even the next Greg Biekert, might be getting a little ahead of themselves. Del Rio seemed to indicate as much Thursday, tamping the flames in an interview with NFL Network.

“I don’t know that we’ve adequately addressed our middle linebacker position, to be honest,” the coach said. “I think we have some work to do there. The rest of our roster is pretty well situated, but we’ll be looking for a linebacker and we’ll continue to look, whether it’s the waiver wire, trades or available guys out there, veterans on the street.”

Or the parking lot in front of Home Depot, or Craigslist or Tinder. You get the idea. The Raiders need a stopgap when it comes to stopping gaps. Del Rio knows it, but his rookie, Lee, has a lot to prove before taking over the role. At least he’s broken a sweat now.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.