Menelik Watson thrown into fire at left tackle

Thearon W. Henderson

The first day back for Menelik Watson was the final day of training camp and he's taking reps at left tackle.

With everyday starting left tackle, Jared Veldheer, expected to be out until midseason, the Raiders are scrambling to find a suitable replacement for him. Alex Barron started at the position in the team's second preseason game and replacing him with the second team was former backup right tackle, Willie Smith.

Returning to practice on the final day of camp was Menelik Watson. The team drafted him in the second round with the intention of him eventually becoming the team's right tackle opposite Veldheer at left tackle. Well, no sooner did Menelik take his first snaps in team sessions with the Raiders, but he was seeing time at left tackle instead.

"I got a couple of snaps today on the left," said Watson. "I'm comfortable either way. Just kind of where I need to go. Either way you have to block somebody. I'll continue to put in extra work on the left side. . . I spoke with Coach Sparano and it's just wherever he needs me. With Jared out and Mike [Brisiel] is nursing his knee. I told coach I'm ready and he can just tell me where to go and I'm there. That's how we're handling the situation."

Quite a twist on an already strange road for this young rookie. A British former basketball player who played one season of division one college football then suffers a calf injury and misses all but the very last day of Raiders training camp only to find himself switching from the only position he has ever known to one of the most difficult and vital positions on the team.

Knowing the team needed his help made it that much more frustrating for Watson that he was out injured. But rushing back is what he did before and the most important thing now was not to repeat the same mistake.

"When Jared went out it was another man down. Then the pressure was on a little bit on me personally to get back and help out.  But we also knew we had to take our time and not rush anything. We sat down and re-evaluated the rehab process and changed up a few things. It helped out a lot."

Raider fans won't get to see him line up at left tackle on Friday as he has been back all of one day, but there is a chance he could play in the preseason finale.

"Every week I try to stay with the game plan," said Watson. "I take notes as if I was playing.  I go through the pregame stuff. I go through that when I'm there. I take notes and study the plays we're going up against so it helps me keep in the mode. In case I was playing I'd be ready to go. . . Obviously me and coach are still going to talk about it, but I would like to get a bunch of snaps [in the preseason finale] and getting used to being back out there."

Who knows, Watson could just prove to be the answer to the Raiders' big question mark at left tackle until Veldheer returns in midseason. That would be quite a break for a team that needs all the breaks they can get right about now.

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