ALAMEDA – Rookie Menelik Watson has never played or practiced at left tackle.
Menelik, you never covered the blind side during your season at Florida State?
What about in junior college?
“Not then either,” Watson said. “Although I played off tackle in a jumbo package once.”
Doesn’t really count. It certainly won’t help Watson with the major undertaking laid at his feet.
The Raiders will start the second-round pick at left tackle during Thursday’s exhibition finale versus Seattle, in hopes that he’s an upgrade over Alex Barron. The veteran has struggled to replace star left tackle Jared Veldheer, out extended time recovering from triceps surgery.
It’s a difficult request for any rookie, especially one who will have five preseason practices under his belt come kickoff.
“We’ve got to see him go out and play,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Obviously we saw a lot of things on tape. We saw a lot of things early in the offseason program that we really liked. That got us excited, but we really haven’t had a chance to see this guy in pads and see what he’s going to do in game situations. I think this will be a great challenge for him. Seattle is very talented up front. They’ve got a lot of speed that comes off the edges. They play extremely hard on defense. It’ll be a great opportunity for him and for us to get a good evaluation, for us to see where he’s at.”
Watson isn’t too worried about this trial by fire. He was ready for it, mentally prepared for a switch when he was physically ready to make it.
“Jared went down, so I knew there would be some shifts,” Watson said “They’re trusting me to play the left tackle spot, and playing there is a privilege. I take the honor seriously. I’m going to make sure I’m ready to play. I’m just working that technique and trying to put myself in position to succeed.”
Switching from right tackle to left isn’t as easy as it looks. There are differences between the two spots and the level of competition you face.
“It’s a new experience, but it’s fun,” Watson said. “Playing tackle just comes natural to me. It’s a very technical position, and things happen a lot faster on the left side. Given that you’re protecting the blind side, you have to have your wits about you.”
Watson will need wits, focus and tunnel vision to prevail in Seattle. Qwest Field is the loudest stadium in the NFL, reaching decibels matched by a jet engine.
The environment doesn’t phase him, not after a frustrating camp stuck on the sideline. Watson is finally ready to play real football.
“I’ve been doing too many mental reps,” Watson said. “I watched a lot of film on my own. It was kind of hard because there were certain things I would see in practice or the classroom and I’d want to shout it out. I felt that it wasn’t my place, so there’s a lot of energy and excitement bottled up inside.”