ALAMEDA (AP) — The Raiders are expected be without tight end Lee Smith and former starting middle linebacker Ben Heeney for the rest of the season after both players were injured during Sunday’s win in Baltimore.
Neither player has been placed on injured reserve yet and both were continuing to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff but Oakland coach Jack Del Rio was not optimistic about either Smith or Heeney returning this season.
“Both of those guys are likely to go (on IR),” Del Rio said Monday. “As they finish the work that is done on those guy with our doctors and all the experts looking at it, if we determine that the time is such that we won’t be able to get them back they could in fact go down. It’s not officially done but it’s headed in that direction.”
Smith was injured after catching a short pass from quarterback Derek Carr midway through the second quarter. Smith had his back turned to the defense when Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith tackled him low from behind, causing the tight end’s body to bend back awkwardly with his right foot stuck in the turf.
Lee Smith had to be helped off the field and did not return. He was initially diagnosed with an ankle injury that was later changed to a lower leg injury.
Del Rio didn’t go into details about Smith’s injury but said he is almost certain to require surgery.
“There’s some damage there,” Del Rio said. “Exactly how long it will take for him to recover and be back to full speed, I’m not certain of that. I would say it’s tracking in the direction of him being unavailable to us. If that is the case then he’ll end up going on IR.”
The Raiders already have defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. on the injured reserve list with plans to bring him back, meaning any other players placed on IR will be done for the season.
Losing Smith would be a significant blow to the NFL’s No. 2 offense. Smith has six receptions but is Oakland’s best blocking tight end who also doubles on special teams.
While the Raiders still have Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera, Del Rio didn’t rule out adding another tight end to the roster if Smith is out.
“It will take several people in all likelihood to fill his shoes because of all that he did,” Del Rio said. “Mainly the blocking, the dirty work, kind of an unsung kind of hero kind of role where he’s just very tough, very determined.”
Heeney’s situation is a little more uncertain.
A fifth-round pick in 2015, Heeney was the Raiders’ starting middle linebacker for the first two games this year before being benched in favor of rookie Cory James. James led Oakland with 15 tackles in the win over Baltimore while Heeney played mostly on special teams.
Del Rio didn’t say when or how Heeney got hurt but a team spokesman confirmed that Heeney had suffered an ankle injury.
Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith also had to come out of the Ravens game with a groin injury.
“At this point I don’t have an update on that,” Del Rio said. “We’re hopeful. I’ll know more when I see him moving around tomorrow.”
The Raiders (3-1) are off to their best start since winning the AFC championship in 2002.
Oakland was without its top three right tackles against Baltimore, forcing Vadal Alexander to make his first career start. The rookie was called for four penalties, including three for holding, but Del Rio defended the seventh-round draft pick’s performance.
“Those holding calls , there were a couple that were called on him that it was really tough to see any kind of holding going on there,” Del Rio said. “I thought he did a heck of job. I know that Khalil (Mack) would love to see all those type of things called every time he’s held. It was tough. I think the young man played really well.”
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