ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Two years ago while attending a community college in Southern California, Menelik Watson was still trying to figure out what American football was all about.
On Thursday, the native of Manchester, England, will make his first start in the NFL at left tackle — a position he’d never played before until this week — in front of one of the league’s most hostile road crowds.
If that’s not enough, Watson, the 42nd overall pick in the draft, will also have to protect the blind side of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who is also making his first start of the preseason in Seattle.
Not that the 6-foot-5, 315-pound rookie is too concerned. After missing almost all of training camp with a calf injury, Watson is just happy to be back on the field no matter where he’s lined up.
“I’m the type of person that when you tell me to do something, I’m going to just do it,” Watson said. “Jared (Veldheer) went down so I knew there’d probably be some shifts. They trust me to play the left tackle position, so it’s a privilege and I have to take it serious and make sure I’m ready to play.”
That’s been the biggest hurdle Watson has faced since being selected by the Raiders in the second round of the draft.
The 24-year-old fancied himself a basketball player growing up in England, and he spent two years in Spain trying to pursue those dreams. He eventually came to the United States and played one season at Marist before being persuaded by a friend to try football.
Watson did, and ended up playing one year at Saddleback Community College before transferring to Florida State. He started 12 games for the Seminoles and earned second-team All-ACC honors.
But after making significant progress with the Raiders in the offseason, Watson suffered a calf injury one week before camp began and was placed on the non-football injury list. He returned briefly on Aug. 7 before aggravating his injury, and he remained sidelined until getting cleared earlier this week.
“I was doing a lot of film watching by myself,” Watson said. “There were a lot of things inside me which I bottled up and had to self-analyze. Coming onto the field, it’s a new pace than just watching.”
Now the plan is to put Watson in hurry-up mode to make up for lost time.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Watson will start against the Seahawks and will remain in the game long after Oakland’s first-team offense has been pulled.
“He’s going to play a significant amount,” Allen said Tuesday. “He hasn’t taken a snap in a game situation and he needs all the work he can get.”
Watson won’t be the only one pulling overtime duties in the Raiders’ final preseason game.
First-round pick D.J. Hayden is also expected to start and remain in the game when the backups enter, as will Pryor.
“Even though they might run out there with the starting unit, there will be some guys that haven’t had as much play time during this preseason, and they’re going to need to go out there and play some,” Allen said.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski won’t be among them. Janikowski strained his right calf in last week’s preseason loss to Chicago and will be held out against Seattle.
The Raiders instead signed veteran Justin Medlock to handle the kicking chores against the Seahawks. Medlock played for Carolina in 2012 after spending four years in the CFL.
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