NAPA — Menelik Watson’s rookie season proved to be mostly a waste.
Watson arrived at his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders with an injured calf that forced him to miss much of the preseason. A knee injury just before the beginning of the regular season cost Watson a shot at a starting job.
By the time Watson was finally healthy he got only limited playing time, mostly as a sixth offensive lineman. He couldn’t overcome all the missed time.
That wasn’t exactly what the Raiders were counting on from a second-round pick, and it certainly wasn’t what the raw Watson needed considering he only played two seasons of football before entering the NFL.
“It was frustrating last year. I’d wish that on nobody, especially as a new guy coming in,” Watson said. “I love this game. It was a lot to have it taken away last year. This is a new year. Last year is behind me. That’s where it’s going to stay.”
Watson said 2013 wasn’t a complete loss. He learned the importance of taking care of his body and placed extra emphasis this offseason on conditioning, nutrition and hydration.
He also got to watch how veterans prepare and got a better understanding of the game, which was needed since he didn’t even start playing football until 2011.
Watson is a former basketball player and boxer who played one year of junior college football at Saddleback Community College before transferring to Florida State. He started 12 games for the Seminoles in 2012 and earned second-team All-ACC honors.
The Raiders saw enough potential to draft Watson 42nd overall and still believe he can reach that level.
“You don’t see men of his size with the kind of feet that he has,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We’ve seen growth from him. We’ll know more when we get into live situations, but we’ve got high expectations and he has high expectations as well.”
Watson did well on the second day of padded practice Monday, more than holding his own against veterans like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley during pass rushing drills.
He is penciled in as the starting right tackle on a revamped offensive line that has only one starter back at his position from last season in center Stefen Wisniewski.
The Raiders have enough confidence in Watson that they moved free-agent addition Austin Howard from right tackle to guard — a position he has never played before in the NFL.
Watson is completely focused on securing that job and has shied away from most interviews this offseason.
“Ever since after the season was over and that last game I had a mission in mind, which was to get my body back to where it needs to be,” Watson said. “It’s just the beginning. I guess it’s part of the reason why I really haven’t talked with the media because it’s really been about action and not about talking anymore. … Coming up nobody knew who I was and back then it was all about action. Just trying to get back to that.”
Watson is especially excited for this season because the Raiders will be playing a game in his home country of England on Sept. 28. Watson, who grew up in Manchester, went to London this offseason to promote the game against Miami and could sense the excitement back home for the Raiders’ first game ever in England.
He said he saw plenty of people back home in Raiders gear and gets lots of encouragement from friends who want to see him succeed in the NFL.
“I can’t imagine when it’s game day,” he said. “It’s going to be mental. There are a lot of Raiders fans out there too. There are a couple of Miami fans but there will be a lot of Raider fans too. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. I can’t imagine what it will be like on game day running out there with that flag.”
NOTES: WR Rod Streater (concussion), WR Juron Criner (hamstring) and S Shelton Johnson (hamstring) all missed practice. … WR Greg Little left practice early with a hamstring injury. … The Raiders signed S Jeremy Deering to fill an open spot on the roster. Deering is an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers and spent time with New England in May.