The Raiders spent a lot of time and money to beef up their offensive line this offseason.
Oakland signed veteran free agents Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe to fortify a unit that underperformed and was thinned by injuries in 2013. It also selected guard Gabe Jackson in the third round from Mississippi State.
But it’s possible that the resurgence of Menelik Watson will prove to be the team’s best step forward on the line in 2014.
Now into the third week of organized team activities (OTAs), the Raiders appear to be giving Watson every opportunity to win the starting job at right tackle.
“He’s attacked this offseason with a purpose, and a purpose to earn a starting spot on that line,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group this week. “Hopefully he’ll continue to improve the way he has in the OTAs.”
Watson played very little in his rookie season out of Florida State because a couple of injuries sidelined him both in training camp and the regular season. He played in just five games after being selected by GM Reggie McKenzie in the second round.
But Watson has spent time and energy since last season making himself a better and more prepared athlete. His technique, conditioning, knowledge of the playbook and even his nutrition are better, he and his coaches have told the Bay Area media.
Allen told Corkan that Watson’s techniques and fundamentals are much improved from last season.
“The thing I like about where Menelik is right now, I like his mindset,” Allen told reporters. “I like his mentality. I like the way he’s going about doing his job. He’s worked at it.”
It’s possible that only center Stefen Wisniewski would be the team’s lone returning starter on the offensive line in 2014, with Penn at left tackle, rookie Jackson at left guard, Howard at right guard and Watson at right tackle, although veterans such as Khalif Barnes and Boothe will be in the mix as well.
If he’s healthy and motivated, however, Watson may be tough to beat out at right tackle. The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder has quick feet and a high upside as a former college basketball player who’s just scratching the surface of his football abilities.
“I’ve seen significant improvement in Menelik this year,” said Allen.