Jared Veldheer is a tough guy to replace.
The 2010 third-round draft pick has been nothing short of a force to be reckoned with on the Oakland Raiders‘ offensive line. He has started 43 games for the Raiders during his three years with the team and fans have grown to love him.
Earlier in the preseason, however, it was revealed that Veldheer would be going through surgery to repair torn triceps in his left arm. He was originally expected to miss most of the upcoming season, but the indication now is that he should be available for more time than initially thought. Regardless, it’s always a big blow when one of your top players goes down with an injury that requires surgery.
But rookie offensive lineman Menelik Watson seems determined to fill in for Veldheer. Watson, the Raiders’ second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, had previously played right tackle for basically his entire football life, otherwise known as a short 19-game football career at Florida State University.
But that all changed on Thursday night, when the Raiders threw him into the game as their left tackle. Many were unsure of how the rookie would produce in such an unfamiliar position, but he stepped up to the challenge and played a solid game.
“I didn’t see guys running around him left and right,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I didn’t see him make a lot of mental errors. I think that, for the first time out, in this tough environment, he gave us something solid to improve on.”
Watson acknowledged the fact that he made good contributions, but knows that there is a lot for him to work on.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement, which in itself is a good thing,” Watson said. “I felt comfortable in my assignments and what I was asked to do, but I needed to do better in several instances, especially against the run… I don’t think I was out of sorts or anything. I know I’ll see a lot of mistakes on the game film, but that in itself will be a good learning experience. The whole week has been a plus, and this game definitely gives me something to build on.”
It’s always hard to replace one of the top players on your team, but it is also always a sign of hope when other players step up and make adjustments to put their teams in the best position to win. Veldheer’s injury is obviously a big blow for the Raiders, but fans should be encouraged by Watson’s effort and performance thus far in his new role.
It also seems as though head coach Dennis Allen is already on board with the idea of starting Watson at left tackle. Scott Bair of CSNCalifornia.com reported the news and it looks as though Watson will be lined up with the starters for Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts.
DA “I would anticipate that Menelik Watson will be our starting LT in the opening game.”
— Scott Bair (@BairCSN) August 31, 2013
Watson has huge shoes to fill but it looks like he has rose to the occasion in good fashion and has already earned the approval of his head coach.