Menelik Watson missed a day of practice this week due to illness, which hardly qualifies as news given the amount of time the Raiders’ second-round draft pick has spent rehabbing instead of playing football.
He injured a calf in the days leading up to training camp, and spent the entire month in Napa working with the training staff. There was an encouraging half of football as the starting left tackle in the preseason finale against Seattle, followed by arthroscopic knee surgery which put him out again.
When Watson returned, he reinjured the calf.
“I couldn’t have envisioned a worse scenario coming into my rookie year,’’ Watson said.
Because of his various injuries, Watson has been active for only three games with the Raiders (4-8) in Week 14 facing the New York Jets (5-7) Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Raiders have gotten precious little out of their top two draft picks, with cornerback D.J. Hayden on injured reserve following sports hernia surgery and having dealt with medical issues relating to his near fatal ruptured inferior vena cava more than a year ago.
Watson, at least, has four games to play and his hopeful of being involved in the Raiders “jumbo’’ package as an extra blocker against the Jets.
“From here, I’ve got to make a name for myself,’’ Watson said. “I’ve got to make an imprint on the league and make sure that people understand that next year, when I’m back and healthy, that I’m someone that you’ve got to think about when you game plan. That’s what I’m hoping for.’’
Watson’s size (6-foot-5, 315) and athleticism borne of a background that included basketball, soccer and boxing while growing up in Manchester, England were too intriguing for the Raiders to pass on even though he had limited football experience at Saddleback Community College and Florida State.
It turned out that no amount of raw skill would prepare Watson for the rigors of the NFL.
“Coming in as a rookie, you don’t arm yourself with a dietician, a nutritionist, a masseuse, all the things you need to keep your body moving, in shape, for the rest of the season,’’ Watson said. “You don’t come in expecting to get hurt. I came in pretty much unprepared in terms of how to take care of my body off the field. It kind of came back to hurt me.’’
The injuries came in a vicious cycle _ with issues cropping up because Watson tried to come back too soon.
“I was not waiting for things to heal, then I’d come back and I’d be overcompensating because my whole body was out of whack,’’ Watson said.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Watson and other rookies learn the grind of being an NFL player goes far beyond practicing and getting into a playbook.
“It’s no longer just a game that you play, it’s a profession,’’ Allen said. “There’s a lot of things that go along with that, other than what everybody sees in terms of X’s and O’s.
“It’s about being a real pro, being able to take care of your body and not only handle your stuff on the field, but handle your stuff off the field.’’
Watson has tapped into veteran resources such as running back Rashad Jennings, a fitness fanatic, and guard Mike Brisiel, an eight-year veteran who is often injured but usually manages to get himself ready to play.
The daily routine for Watson now includes an earlier arrival which includes a hot tub, stretching and taping.
“Rashad was telling me he’d try new things and all the vets would laugh at him because some of the stuff he would do would be out of the ordinary,’’ Watson said. “You have to find out what works for you and what doesn’t, and trust yourself.’’
— Jennings was limited in practice made the trip to East Rutherford, N.J. and is listed as questionable but still hasn’t been cleared to play following a Thanksgiving Day concussion. He will be further evaluated Saturday.
Players who are out and not making the trip include running back Darren McFadden (ankle), wide receiver Denarius Moore (shoulder), linebacker Kaluka Maiava (calf), Brisiel (knee), running back Jeremy Stewart (knee, ankle), safety Usama Young (stinger) and safety Tyvon Branch (ankle). Branch was initially listed as questionable but downgraded to out before the team departed.
Jason Hunter, who missed two games with a foot injury, will reclaim his starting position at defensive left end with Vaughn Walker moving back inside to tackle.