NAPA – Menelik Watson is tough to track down. Interview requests were made throughout the offseason, and the Raiders right tackle declined each one.
It’s not like Watson had nothing to talk about. The 2013 second-round pick was in the process of rebounding from a rookie year plagued by injury. Improved health and increased work ethic has the Englishman on track for a breakout year. Everyone loves a good comeback story, but Watson wanted no part of it.
He insists it wasn’t personal, Raider Nation. Watson just wanted to stay focused.
Last week, however, Watson broke radio silence. And, as he always does, the 25-year old discussed his mindset and newfound focus with color and candor.
“I had a mission in mind, which was to get my body back to where it needs to be,” Watson said. “I guess that’s part of the reason why I’ve been quiet with the media, because it’s just really been about action. It’s not about talking anymore, or saying I’m going to be this or I’m going to be that.
“Coming up, nobody knew who I was, and back then it was all about action. I’m just trying to get back to that, working and not talking, and just getting it done, because we have a lot to do this year. It’s going to be a special year if we keep our minds to it.”
Watson admits to flying blind somewhat last season, without understanding what it took to thrive at an NFL level. That’s understandable, considering he had just two years football experience, just one at the NCAA level, before turning pro.
Combine that with a bit of a temper and you have the perfect climate for frustration. That was evident last training camp, when he re-aggravated a calf injury on his first day back. Watson stormed off to the side of the training room, slammed his helmet and sulked.
A calf injury was followed by knee problems that messed with his regular season, and kept him out of sync. Despite so many setbacks, Watson doesn’t consider 2013 a lost season.
Valuable life lessons were embedded in all that adversity, and he’s a smarter player for the experience.
“The couple of snaps that I had last year, sometimes I would get a little frustrated when I was out there and I had to deal with that,” Watson said. “I had to learn how to get over a play, learn how to move on. I took a lot from last year, just from watching the vets and what they were going through and everything like that. It wasn’t a wasted year. It was from a physical standpoint, a play and production standpoint, but it definitely wasn’t wasted.”
Watson is now a practitioner of preventative medicine, pouring significant effort into ensuring he stays on the field. He’s taken most every first-team rep at right tackle since the start of the offseason program, and seems poised to start the season in that spot.
“I’ve been very impressed with what he’s been able to do over there on the right side,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think it helps him on a day-in and day-out basis that he’s going against guys like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and Khalil Mack. That’s going to do nothing but really get both sides of the ball better. He’s done a good job, he’s picking up what we’re asking him to do offensively, his fundamentals and technique have improved and he’s just got to keep continuing to work.”
The offensive line is far bigger, stronger and deeper than a year ago, and figures to be a team strength. Much of that depends on Watson staying healthy and living up to his potential, something he struggled with a year ago.
“I love this game and it hurt a lot to have it taken away last year,” Watson said. “This is a new year, and last year is behind me and that’s where it’s going to stay.”