ALAMEDA — A calf injury cost rookie Menelik Watson almost all of training camp. Now, on the eve of Watson starting at left offensive tackle for the Raiders in their regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts, Watson is battling a knee injury.
Coach Dennis Allen said Watson “tweaked” a knee in practice today. To that end, Watson was limited in practice, and his status for Sunday’s game against the Colts is up in the air.
If Watson can’t play Sunday, Allen said, veteran Khalif Barnes will take over on the left side, with recently signed veteran Tony Pashos replacing Barnes at right offensive tackle.
Barnes started at left tackle for his four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has played right tackle almost exclusively during his Raiders career.
Left tackle continues to be a revolving door, of sorts, on the heels of entrenched regular Jared Veldheer suffering a torn triceps.
Once Veldheer went down, the Raiders tried veteran Alex Barron. That experiment bombed, with the Raiders releasing Barron last Saturday.
Watson started Oakland’s exhibition finale against the Seattle Seahawks at left tackle and held up quite well, though the competition and noise were mitigated somewhat by the meaningless nature of the game.
— The news is better concerning kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Allen revealed that Janikowski has been sidelined of late with a right calf injury and, more important, that his standout kicker will be ready to go against the Colts.
The Raiders signed Justin Medlock to kick for Janikowski against the Seahawks last Thursday night. They then waived Medlock two days later.
Janikowski was not at practice today. However, Allen wasted little time in saying, “He’ll be fine,”
— Tight end David Ausberry worked with a trainer off to the side today, while his teammates practiced on an adjacent field. It appears as if Ausberry’s injured shoulder is making progress, based on how he looked.
“I’m making progress every day,” Ausberry said. “It’s getting better, and I hope I’ll be able to play again real soon.”
Allen didn’t shed much light on the situation, as expected.
“I’m not going to make that decision yet,” Allen said, when asked if Ausberry is going to play Sunday. “He’s not ready to go, but I won’t have to decide on his status until later in the week. We’ll see how he continues to progress as the week goes on.”
Ausberry said he has to weigh the short-term gain of returning too soon versus the long-term gain of making sure he is at or near full strength upon his return.
He is the starting tight end whenever he’s healthy. If he can’t play, the Raiders will choose from among Jeron Mastrud and rookies Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa. Mastrud likely will start if Ausberry isn’t able to do so.
— Colts coach Chuck Pagano spent the 2005 and ’06 seasons with the Raiders as their defensive backs coach. He worked under Norv Turner and Art Shell.
He said he enjoyed his time here, even though the Raiders won four games in ’04 and two in ’06.
“The most memorable moments were spent with Mr. Davis,” Pagano said of late owner Al Davis. “It was an honor to work under a man, a legend and an icon that he is and was. I learned so much from him.
“When my career is over and done, I’ll always look back on those moments. It was a great opportunity for me, a great two years. Everybody else would say that the opportunity was very unique. I am humbled by it and honored to have had that opportunity.”
— The Raiders boast 27 players on their 53-man roster that weren’t on the team last year. All but one will be making their Raiders debut Sunday, with safety Charles Woodson in his second go round with the team that drafted him in 1998.
That figure also might change if the Raiders make a roster move or two between now and Sunday, which is possible.
One potential move is with Veldheer. Allen said the Raiders aren’t in any hurry to decide whether to place Veldheer on the injured reserve/designated to return list.
Teams are permitted to use that designation once per season. They are expected to do so this season with Veldheer, but not until they are certain that Veldheer is going to be able to return at a reasonable time during the season.
— Fullback Marcel Reece (offense), defensive end Lamarr Houston (defense) and long-snapper Jon Condo (special teams) were voted team captains, Allen said.
Houston receiving the honor adds to the role that Allen and others envisioned their defensive linchpin playing this season.
“Lamarr was a guy that, going into the offseason, that we kind of pegged as a guy that we wanted to be a leader for this team,” Allen said. “He began to take a little bit of that role at the end of last year and he’s continued to improve in that regard as we’ve gone through the offseason and training camp.”
— Allen said one of the objectives of training camp was identifying a clear-cut, No. 1 wide receiver.
Allen and receiver Rod Streater stopped shy of saying whether the Raiders feel as if they achieved their stated goal.
“We have a lot of good receivers,” Allen said. “All those guys can step up and make plays. We’re happy where we’re at from the receiver position. We have guys that bring different elements and different strengths.”
Streater said all he knows is that he is a starter and that he is expected to make plays every game. Therefore, it doesn’t matter to him whether he’s considered the go-to guy or not.
— Few give the Raiders a chance to do well this season. That fact obviously isn’t lost on Allen and his coaches and players.
Still, it doesn’t change their approach or get them too riled up.
“The expectations in what we are as a football team will be defined inside this building,” Allen said. “That’s the only way you can look at it. We’re focused on doing the best that we can to continue to improve, and we’re really focused on how we’re going to try to win this game against the Indianapolis Colts. And that’s our only focus right now.”