Watson hopes NFL learning curve is elementary

Allen: 'We felt really good about the two picks today'

Watson hopes NFL learning curve is elementary
April 26, 2013, 9:15 pm
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He’ll help us build this thing the way we want to get it built.
—Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales

ALAMEDA -- Menelik Watson grew up in Manchester, England a boxer, when he wasn't playing soccer or basketball.

So you could forgive the Raiders' second-round draft pick if he didn't catch on to the nuances of football right away. At least, not when he was just starting out at Saddleback junior college in Mission Viejo.

"I found it baffling because I didn’t understand a thing that was going on," Watson said in a conference call Friday with media that cover the Raiders. "I remember in our first practice, we were in a pass play and I didn’t know you weren't supposed to (go) upfield on a pass play. So I just grabbed this defensive end and just ran him all the way up the field about 10 yards.

"Coach Mac (Mark McElroy)…was watching film, and he was like, 'Son, you can’t do that. It’s a pass play.' And he was like, 'Oh, my God, what am I working with?' But then I started learning what was pass and run, and once I did that, it was fairly easy."

The 6-feet-5, 310-pound Watson was a fast learner. One of his linemates at Saddleback was Kyle Long, son of Raiders Hall of Famer Howie Long, and it was the younger Long who convinced Watson to move over to the offensive line from the defensive side of the ball. Watson was at right tackle while Long was at left tackle. Long went to Oregon and was drafted by Chicago in the first round Thursday while Watson transferred to Florida State and was taken by the Raiders with the No. 42 overall pick Friday.

In fact, Watson said the elder Long talked to him about life in the NFL.

Of course, none of it would have mattered had he not made the switch from soccer -- a bad ankle injury -- to basketball -- he played a year at Marist before souring on the game -- to football -- he decided it was time to get a job and wanted to see if football was his vehicle.

It's all contributed to his skill-set. And yes, he's only played two years of organized football…and still finds himself a second-round draft pick. Even at 24 years of age.

"He played at a major university," said Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales. "I think from a technique standpoint he’ll need work. He was coached pretty hard if you know anything about Florida State football, the offensive line coach (Rick Trickett) there. He’s been tutored well. We feel like he’ll be able to come in and adjust to the pro game pretty quickly and contribute.

"First and foremost he’s the kind of player we’re looking for. He’s athletic, he’s tough, he’s committed, he’s strong. He’ll come in and he’ll compete, whether it’s at left tackle or right tackle or guard, wherever it may be. He’ll help us build this thing the way we want to get it built."

And while his raw tools had him rated among the best tackles in the league and has drawn comparisons to Baltimore's Michael Oher, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Watson, "He has no idea what he's doing, but he's gifted as all get out."

Yes, it was a compliment.

"Well, I mean, obviously he hasn’t been playing the position for a long time," said coach Dennis Allen. "But…it’s not like we’re taking a guy that was just a basketball player and we’ve never seen him play football. We’ve seen him play college football at a high level, and play really well. And this was a guy that we had rated as one of the top tackles on the board, and he was available for us there in the second round, so we took him."

Besides, Watson, in his basketball days, played against new Raiders teammate Jack Crawford back in England. And now, football is second-nature to Watson.

"Like about my second game in, third game in, I knew who I could get, I was like, 'Perfect, now I can go over and just smash him in the face or run him off the field or block him and stuff,'" Watson said. "So after that, everything just started speeding up after that."

It's about to to go even faster now.