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The Early Read: Spotlight on Menelik Watson

One of the more under-the-radar developments coming out of yesterday's scrimmage may be that the absence of Daniel Glauser allowed Menelik Watson a chance to run with the first team for the entire afternoon.

While things are still far from settled at right tackle, Watson by most accounts took advantage of the opportunity and if he ends up winning the starting job we may look back and point to Thursday's scrimmage as the turning point. 

"I'll wait until the film, I saw a couple missed assignments," said Fisher, who hedged on evaluating Watson after the scrimmage, pending his film study.

"The thing about him though is even when he makes mistakes he's so athletic he can recover. But he went in and he functioned, and we moved the ball and ran behind him and he did some good things. With linemen sometimes it's hard though until you watch the tape."

As incomplete an evaluation as that may be, that Watson was effective is significant because he is so green behind the ears. The English-born former basketball player transferred to Florida State out of a junior college and has barely played any football, so his experience on the offensive line is far less than that of his teammates. 

But his athleticism and potential are quickly becoming obvious at Florida State's camp. A 6-6 320-pound behemoth, Watson started 13 games for the Marist basketball team as a freshman, runs a 4.7-40 and never even suited up to play a game of football until 2011 when he made 8 starts at a junior college in California.

Watson grew up in England one of seven children, he was discovered at a Christmas hoops tournament in high school by a coach from a basketball academy who helped to get him a scholarship to play power forward at a small Poughkeepsie college with a struggling basketball team.

When basketball didn't seem to be the answer, he trained as a heavyweight boxer but he also turned his attention to the gridiron and enrolled at Saddlebrook CC.

At Marist, Watson's teammates had introduced him to the game of football through videogames and a 2010 visit to a BYU-Florida State game in Tallahassee really got him interested in the sport.

So he moved to California and tried it. 

Considering the absolute lack of exposure to just the game itself, the fact he's at Florida State just one season later vying for a chance to start is a remarkable testament to his athletic ceiling.

Watson has been locked in a battle for the right tackle job with Daniel Glauser since camp opened. Whereas the Swiss-born Glauser was able to enroll early and go through the spring with his new team, Watson didn't bear the benefit of that experience and started camp off more than a little behind.

He quickly seems to have caught up.

Senior defensive end Cornelius Carradine, who squares off with Watson regularly, was less hesitant in his assessment of Watson's Thursday scrimmage performance when we spoke to him afterwards.

"He's been great," said Carradine. "The guy's strong, he's still learning the system, [but] he's going to be a great player and he's hard to go against. Without him having a lot of experience, you'd assume he [does]."

"He's got quick feet, he's fast and he's good with his hands. He also did boxing so he's great with his hands."

Carradine was asked if he feels the punch from Watson off the line and he didn't hesitate.

"I feel it," he said emphatically. "Awww, it hurts man. I have to put my arm out and bull [rush] him so he won't grab you, because if he grabs you or he pushes you or punches you, it's almost impossible."

The point Carradine makes is especially salient considering just how big an asset Menelik's handwork can be as a game wears on.

His footwork will only improve and his technique and functional strength will only get better, but that punch is something that sets him apart.

Most defensive lines don't have the depth that Florida State possesses, their rotations will be thinner, guys will play more snaps and have to grind against Watson more. Just like a heavyweight boxer wears down an opponent with that jab, Watson is literally going to be doing the same thing to opposing ends.

Ignoring the fact that, as Carradine alluded to, it limits a pass-rusher's repertoire, after three quarters of having a guy who trained as a heavyweight boxer punching you squarely in the chest every play, that 4th is going to be a challenge both physically and mentally.

Watson may be inexperienced, but his athleticism and intangibles are tough to ignore. 

"I'm kind of jealous, I'm just like 'wow, I've been playing since I was eleven,'" redshirt junior center Bryan Stork said last week. "That's just really cool someone can be that athletically gifted. And he's got a good head on his shoulders, he's got a good work ethic, I think he'll be fine."

Whether or not Watson wins the starting job at right tackle out of camp remains to be seen. But the junior offensive tackle is rapidly progressing and I doubt it's long before he makes an impact on the field in Tallahassee.

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