While the Raider Nation holds their breath on the status of last year's first round pick CB DJ Hayden, it will be a relief to know that the 2nd round pick of last year is healthy and on the field. Menelik Watson had a rough rookie year where he battled injuries throughout but he is back to work now healthy again and ready to go.
Donald Penn is the new LT in town and one of the first things he has taken notice of is the 2nd year player who is expected to be starting alongside the veteran. Penn hasn't been here long but already he can see the potential that Watson has and he is ready to help any way that he can.
"Menelik Watson, he’s a tremendous athlete. My thing is, I don’t think Menelik knows how good he can be yet. I see a lot of potential in him. He has some great feet, which is important as a tackle. Menelik wants to be good, and that’s the biggest part of being a football (player). You have to want to be good, and he wants to."
Potential is good to have, even if being there already is way better. In order to turn the former into the latter it takes a lot of hard work, but from the sounds of it Watson is doing what he needs to do to complete the transformation.
"He’s working hard and he’s doing a lot of good things and I’ve been in his ear a lot."continued Penn, "He’s one of those guys I’m going to try to take under my wing, him and [Matt] McCants. They’re really picking my brain and I’m telling them when they’re right, telling them when they’re wrong to the side. I like Menelik a lot."
While utilizing Donald Penn's veteran knowledge of the game is a good thing for Watson, just being on the field in general is a much bigger step. He was the story of last year's preseason after a strong showing replacing the injured left tackle Jared Veldheer. Unfortunately, he didn't make it to week 1 before he was re-injured after missing time throughout the OTA's and training camp as well.
Watson was showing the physical ability to play in the NFL when he was healthy, but his body didn't cooperate last year. It is hard to be out with an injury and Watson showed frustration with the process several times. He was visibly upset about his playing status on more than one occasion, though that should be expected in someone as competitive as Menelik.
Watson's absence from the field was hard on him last year physically, but it was even more difficult mentally. He came into the league raw after just one season of division I football at Florida State, missing so much time his rookie year only put him further in the hole. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen touched on the subject of Watson and his frustration with his injuries in this week's presser.
"This game is a psychological game," said Allen. "It’s 90 percent mental and so you have to evaluate each case on an individual basis and sometimes you want to see guys that have setbacks or have adversity, you want to see them be able to fight through and how they go about fighting through that. Sometimes it’s a case where you’ve got to pick a guy up, sometimes you’ve got to kick them in the tail. The thing I like about where Menelik is right now, I like his mindset. I like his mentality. I like the way he’s going about doing his job, the way he’s working."
It is important for Watson to continue to grow mentally and his improvement in that area is key to the coaches' faith in him. As hard as it was to be injured and missing time, he needs to take advantage of being healthy again. His rookie year wasn't what he wanted it to be but dealing with adversity can be a great tool to use in the learning process. He has a lot of lost time to make up for but he has more motivation than ever before.
Coming back from injury is enough motivation for anybody to better themselves, but it is even more so for Menelik who is set to have a homecoming party awaiting him this season. The Raiders will face the Dolphins in London and it just so happens England is the birthplace of Mr. Watson. His return home hasn't gone unnoticed amongst the people of the UK.
"It’s great," said Neil Reynolds of Sky Sports and NFLUK.com when asked about Menelik and fellow Raider Jack Crawford's return home. "Jack’s from London and Menelik’s from Manchester, so it’s a big deal to us. We’re very proud of what they’ve done and gone from other sports into American football, so they’re going to get a great reception. Obviously, we pay attention to the quarterbacks; we pay attention to the receivers, but we’re going to give those linemen some love at Wembley."
Menelik is working hard to be ready to put on a show for his fans back home, it will be one of the only times he gets to play in front of his friends and family. Between that and making up for his injury plagued rookie season Watson has all the motivation anybody could ever need. Between that, being healthy and having Donald Penn to guide him it appears Watson is set up to take the next step in his game.
He has the coach and the GM on his side as both confirmed this off-season that Watson is pegged as the team's starting right tackle this year.
Hopefully for his sake, his body cooperates this time. He has the athleticism and he has shown that he has the natural talent. With the stars aligned for him and Watson putting in the required work he should be the Raiders' starting right tackle in 2014.