Rookie offensive lineman Menelik Watson of the Raiders (No. 71) is happy to be playing again. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
One silver lining to the Raiders’ black-and-blue Sunday experience was the debut of second-round draft pick Menelik Watson.
Watson, the team’s second-round pick from Florida State, had been mostly sidelined through training camp and the first half of the regular-season with a series of injuries, but on Sunday in the Raiders’ 49-20 loss to the Eagles, Watson finally made his NFL regular-season debut. When Matt McCants injured his foot in the second quarter, Watson took his place at right tackle and, by all accounts, held his own.
So, on a day when the team’s No. 1 pick, cornerback D.J. Hayden, had his roughest day as a pro – getting repeatedly burned in pass coverage – at least the Raiders were able to start getting a look at a player who could be a key piece of building a stronger offensive line in the second half of this season and beyond.
Watson, who got in a full week of practice before the game, told reporters he wasn’t nervous at all when he took over for McCants.
“No, man, never nervous, never nervous,” he said. “They’re men out there, it’s not machines or aliens we’re playing against, it’s just men. I’m never nervous, whoever it is. It doesn’t matter to me.”
It’s possible that Watson could be in the starting lineup this Sunday, when the Raiders take on the New York Giants back east.
“I was happy to be back out there,” Watson said. “Good to get my hands on somebody. Good experience, but really disappointed in the result.”
The result, certainly, brought the mood down in the Raiders’ locker room. Just a week after beating the Steelers to improve to 3-4, players and coaches were talking about having some momentum going into the second half of their schedule with, perhaps, an AFC wild-card berth at the end of the season’s rainbow.
Now at 3-5, the Raiders will need to pick up the pieces on the road against the 2-6 Giants, whose victories have come in their past two games.
Watson, for one, hopes to build on his first, official NFL game experience and contribute against New York this Sunday.
“Right now I can’t be happy about what happened out there,” he said after Sunday’s loss. “That was very frustrating, but I’m glad to be back out on the field. …. I’m just really disappointed, obviously, by the result, but it was a nice experience. You can’t beat experience being out there.”