Last season was a difficult one for Menelik Watson. He was the Raiders' second round pick and looking to take the league by storm. That dream was put on hold before it even began when he suffered a calf injury in the off-season and was sidelined all but one day of training camp.
That goal was further complicated when after it appeared he would be the team's starting left tackle to open the season, he went down with another injury. Then a few weeks later he re-aggravated the calf injury he had coming into camp.
After that experience, Watson decided it was time to change how he approached things.
"I don't think there's any question I've seen a difference in his approach," Head coach Dennis Allen said of Watson. "I think he was very disappointed in last year. I think he's even said this, that he didn't come into this fully prepared for what he was getting into and I think he understands what it takes to play in the National Football League. Nothing's given to anybody in this league, you've got to go out and earn it. He's come out here every day and worked to earn the reps that he's been able to get and I've seen a lot of improvement. The biggest thing I've seen from him, really is just his mental approach to what we're trying to get done."
That silence ended Wednesday thanks to his being one of the NFL's ambassadors on media day at Wembley Stadium in London. The Raiders face the Dolphins as the first of three NFL match-ups in London this year. The Manchester England native has that September 28 date circled on his calendar as the day he will have his homecoming.
"I'm excited. It's gonna be a good one," Watson told Skysports."I got a lot of family and friends coming to the game so everyone's excited about seeing me play live so it should be a fun one."
"[Wembley Stadium] is bigger than I thought it was. You hear the stories about it but I can't imagine what it's gonna be like when our fans are in here screaming."
Those visions of coming out of that tunnel as the Raiders starting right tackle are something Watson is determined to see happen. As if being a starter in the NFL wasn't enough motivation. Now he's hoping to take the positives from his rookie season-that-barely-was and learn from it.
"It was great from a mental aspect," he said. "I got to watch a lot, observe, understand the business, understand the game. I learned a lot, obviously it'd been two years (of college football) and then I got into the NFL, so it was a learning process. I got a lot of experience."
Part of Watson's new mental approach involved somewhat of a vow of silence with regard to the media.
"Last year just trying to win (a starting job) and I haven't been doing much talking this off-season, just trying to work on getting back into the grind of when I was at junior college and when I was at Florida State because I feel like the best opportunity to show people what you can do is when you just work and don't talk."
For the team as a whole, he sees improvement. How much improvement? Well, he wouldn't say specifically where he sees the Raiders this season, just that "...we're gonna make a change. . . we're just gonna let our playing do the talk."
As far as where he sees them headed, his visions are much bigger, and close to his heart.
Watson is a proud Manchester City football (aka soccer) fan. They are the reigning English Premiere League champions, have won two of the last three titles, and were runner-up last year. This after having not won a title since 1968 and not having been runner-up since 1977.
The Raiders haven't won the Super Bowl since 1983 and haven't had a winning season since 2002. In all but two of the seasons since, they have had double digit losses. Watson sees a bit of Man City in these Raiders and a bit of the loyal Man City fans in the Raider Nation.
"Oh man, I'm telling you, all the City fans know back in Manchester all the years of... it's similar to what's been going on with the Raiders - storied team/franchise -- we went through our struggles, the real fans like me stuck with it and now we're winning championships and it feels good."
Watson is just beginning his NFL career so he has many seasons ahead of him to try and help his Raiders reach where his Man City squad is now. With the Raiders coming off two straight 4-12 seasons, they have a long way to go.