NAPA – Menelik Watson tried to finish practice on Aug. 7 and couldn’t. The rookie offensive lineman aggravated a nagging calf injury 30 minutes into his first training camp, and he was pissed.
Watson left the field in anger, punched a bench and cooled his jets outside the trainer’s room, fearing additional time on the shelf. The unwelcome setback kept him out two more weeks but, on the last day of training camp, Watson got back to work.
“It’s been a process that took way longer than I thought, but it’s been good to get back out there and take some reps,” Watson said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’ve kept my head in the playbook, and I’m extremely comfortable with that. Now I have to put a couple days together and keep building on that.”
The second-round pick’s return was important for an offense that needs him now more than ever.
Star left tackle Jared Veldheer is out an extended period recovering from a triceps tear, and Alex Barron has struggled to replace him.
Hope has shifted to Watson, who has little experience protecting the blind side. The Raiders were forced to change the course of his rehab. In short, pedal was put to metal.
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“When Jared went out, the pressure was on me a little bit to get back and help out,” Watson said. “It was difficult because I still had to be smart, take my time and not rush anything. After that, we sat down and re-evaluated the rehab process and changed up a few things. It helped out a lot.”
Watson took snaps at both tackle spots during his first full session, but won’t be ready for Friday’s exhibition against Chicago. While the Raiders need him back right away, they can’t afford a second setback.
“I want to ease him into it even though he’s missed a lot of time and he’s far behind because he’s missed all of camp,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I want to try to make sure he’s healthy and get him ready to go. I won’t play him in the game Friday night, and I’ll get him ready to play a lot of snaps against Seattle.”
Allen wouldn’t specify where he wants Watson to play. He seemed happy with Khalif Barnes at right tackle, leaving Barron and Watson as options on the left side.
“I’m comfortable at either spot,” Watson said. “Either way, you have to block someone. I’ll continue putting in work on the left side just in case they need me to play there.”
Watson believes he’s farther along than most suspect. He considers himself mentally ready, with the physical hurdles of everyday football left in his way.
“I’m not far behind, maybe a day or two,” Watson said. “I have to get used to hitting again, which something that typically happens during camp. I have a couple of hard days practice ahead of me, but my body will get used to the physicality again.
“I was as involved with the game plan as I would’ve been had I played. That was key for me, and I think it’s helped me be ready as possible for this return.”