It’s been a while since we saw Menelik Watson play an entire game in Silver & Black. Over two seasons, actually. The last time Menelik Watson started a game and played every snap was November 20th, 2014 in week 12 against the Chiefs. You might remember that game. It was the Raiders first win of that season after starting 0-10 and having lost their last 16 games dating back to the previous season. It was Derek Carr's first win as a pro and Latavius Murray's breakout game.
Since then, Watson has suffered injury after injury, including missing the entire 2015 season. This season, he started the season opener, after having won the starting job the for the second straight season ahead of Austin Howard, but once again he was lost to an injury. After missing much of this season to with a calf strain, he returned a few weeks ago and was used as he had been in 2014, mostly as a tackle eligible in jumbo packages.
Watson showed up well in the team's win in San Diego in week 15 along with showing well in practice and earned his starting job back.
"I trust [offensive line] coach [Mike] Tice on that," said Del Rio on giving Watson the start over Howard. "He's been grading out pretty well. He's been working very hard. We felt like it was justified for him that he had earned his way back into the starting lineup. We didn't give it to him. He came out of camp the starter and got injured and other people played and played well. It's kind of like the running backs. We just played the guy that was playing well and giving us a chance to win. We just felt like, at this point, he gives us the best chance to win, so we made that decision."
"He graded out well. I think we had a couple of penalties [Saturday], but it wasn't from a lack of effort. He is a powerful, athletic guy and did a pretty solid job."
Howard was inactive for the game due to the fact that Vadal Alexander had more experience this season as the swing tackle eligible.
Mario Edwards Jr also returned for the Raiders, though he was immediately given the start and Del Rio had him on a snap count, being that he hadn't played in a game this season; on IR with an injured hip.