At a time when rookies usually slow down, Raiders defensive tackle Stacy McGee is just getting started.
McGee, a sixth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, has become a key part of the Raiders defensive line rotation and had his biggest impact play of the season in a 28-23 win over the Houston Texans.
With defensive end Jason Hunter ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans at O.co Coliseum, McGee could get even more work as starting tackle Vaughn Walker gets some snaps at end.
McGee’s first-quarter hit on quarterback Case Keenum as he was attempting to pass resulted in an interception by linebacker Nick Roach, which the Raiders eventually turned into a touchdown and a14-0 lead.
It was a popular highlight in McGee’s hometown of Muskogee, Okla.
“I heard from a lot of people who saw it on TV,’’ McGee said. “I think they were proud to see me doing something.’’
McGee was a controversial selection given his background and the Raiders stated preference for character players. His four years at Oklahoma included a DUI, a citation for marijuana possession and suspensions for breaking team rules.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who called McGee’s performance a “pleasant surprise,’’ believed McGee was a good guy who made some errors in judgment.
“Is that a young kid making some young mistakes, or is it an issue or a problem?,’ ‘’ Allen said. “We were convinced it was something we could deal with, that we could manage. And he’s been great since he’s been here.
“Obviously that’s something you want to continue to monitor, but we’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen on and off the field with Stacy McGee.’’
McGee said he wants to pay back the Raiders for having the faith in his character.
“I accept the things that I’ve done. I know I messed up,’’ McGee said. “I don’t have a chip in my shoulder because I put myself in those situations. All I can do is move forward.’’
In a football sense, McGee’s ability to move forward _ with raw power _ is his defining characteristic.
“He started off slow with some nagging injuries when he came to camp, and now he’s just starting to get really healthy,’’ defensive line coach Terrell Williams said. “He’s getting better in practice and he’s obviously getting better in games.’’
The so-called “rookie wall’’ has yet to be in evidence with six games to play.
“I actually feel like I’m progressing and the games are getting more and more fun each week,’’ McGee said.
Williams said McGee’s football intelligence is high and that he enjoys working at it.
“He loves it,’’ Williams said. “He studies tape, and when you ask him questions about what he’s supposed to be doing up front, he knows the answers.’’
— The Raiders announced the Tennessee game is a sellout and will be televised locally. All six home games have sold out this season with capacity reduced by approximately 11,000 fans by putting a tarp on the east structure as well as third-deck sections near the structure.
— Wide receiver Denarius Moore (shoulder), running back Darren McFadden (hamstring), defensive end Jason Hunter (foot) and safety Tyvon Branch (ankle) were ruled out against Tennessee.
Moore is the Raiders’ leading receiver with 37 receptions for 569 yards and five touchdowns. Andre Holmes will start in his place opposite Rod Streater.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (knee), linebacker Kaluka Maiava (ribs), defensive tackle Daniel Muir (knee) and wide receiver Juron Criner (shoulder) were listed as questionable.
Allen said he wants to see Pryor again Saturday before determining whether he will be available as the backup quarterback against Tennessee.
Guard Mike Brisiel (ankle/knee) and Holmes (shoulder) were listed as probable.