ALAMEDA — 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,” he 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.
Watson, the Raiders second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, 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.