The Oakland Raiders concluded their training camp in Napa, California with the focus shifting to the third preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Rookie second round pick Menelik Watson returned to practice on the final day. With starting left tackle Jared Veldheer out for an extended period with torn triceps, Watson could prove valuable on quarterback Matt Flynn's blind side.
“We got him a couple of reps per period,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Watson. “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, but 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.”
Watson briefly returned to camp earlier, but suffered an immediate setback to his ankle injury. He is behind with the time missed, but now has the opportunity to make the most of the practice time remaining before the regular season opener. The Raiders currently have Alex Barron replacing Veldheer at left tackle, but he struggled in his first chance against the New Orleans Saints. If Barron cannot rebound and put together a better showing against the Bears, Watson could get a crack at the job.
“I’m comfortable,” Watson said of playing on the left side. “I got a couple snaps today at the left. I’m comfortable either way, just kind of wherever you need me to go really. Either way you’ve got to block somebody, so I continue putting in extra work on the left side just in case.”
Having an extra, talented body on the offensive line cannot hurt the Raiders. The Veldheer injury put the unit under the microscope and they did not respond well. It was only one preseason game that counts for nothing, but improvement is essential in the third preseason game. Flynn was under duress for most of the half. In order for the Raiders to execute their downhill running game as well as find success in the passing game, the big boys up front must respond.
“There were a number of reasons there was protection breakdowns,” Flynn said. “It wasn’t all offensive line. There’s just things we have to clean up and that’s what we’re looking to do. We want to clean those things up and execute a little bit better this week. That’s what preseason is for and that’s what it’s all about.”
Watson projected better as a right tackle coming out of college because that is the only position he has played, but he possesses very good athleticism, footwork, size and range as a blocker. He started playing football only two years before being selected in the NFL Draft. He will get his crash course with offensive line coach Tony Sparano this week in practice. Barring any setbacks, he should get significant playing time in the fourth preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks.
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