ALAMEDA – Raiders tight end Lee Smith will have surgery on his injured lower leg and could miss the rest of the season, head coach Jack Del Rio said on Monday afternoon.
That’s a significant blow for the Raiders. Smith’s a one-of-a-kind talent on this roster, a tight end who did a lot of dirty work ignored by the stat sheet. He can really block, and was an asset in the run game and pass protection.
Del Rio also said reserve interior linebacker Ben Heeney might be lost to an ankle injury. Surgery is a strong possibility in Heeney’s case as well. Both players got hurt in Sunday’s 28-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Both guys are likely to go down (for the season),” Del Rio said. “That’ll be (determined) as they finish the work that is done on these guys, with all the doctors and our experts looking at it.
“If we determine that the (rehab) time is such that we won’t be able to get them back, then they could in fact go down (for the season). It’s not officially done yet, but it’s heading in that direction.”
Losing Smith and Heeney could create immediate problems.
Heeney’s absence and weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith’s uncertain status (groin strain) makes the Raiders thin at the interior linebacker spots. Cory James will start at middle linebacker, but they only have Daren Bates left on the active roster. He is primarily a special teams player pressed into defensive duty Sunday. Darnell Sankey is on the practice squad, but hasn’t worked within this system long.
The Raiders might have to look outside the organization for depth if, in fact, Malcolm Smith can’t go. Del Rio said he would know more about Malcolm Smith later this week.
Several players will fill Lee Smith’s unique role. The Raiders only carried three tight ends on the roster and the others are receivers, so another blocking tight end could be added if IR is chosen. There’s also a possibly reserve offensive tackles could check in as eligible receivers in running situations.
“We’ll design around anything we need to design around, and we won’t ask people to do things they’re not capable of doing,” Del Rio said. “(Lee Smith) is a vital piece. We have players and coaches who adapt, and we will build around what we have to build around.”
Clive Walford’s role should remain relatively static, as the team’s primary receiving tight end.
“We won’t change (Walford’s) role much,” Del Rio said. “What he does is what he does. He plays as a big role as it is right now.”
It’s uncertain at this stage how long Lee Smith’s and Ben Heeney’s rehab will take.
Each NFL team has the right to pull one player off injured reserve after eight weeks on that list – unlike last year, a team doesn’t have to designate a player specifically – though the Raiders plan to use that on defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr.