Coached up, moving on

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- He spent just eight months at Florida State, but Menelik Watson didn't have the luxury of sentimentality. At 24, the clock was ticking on his NFL dreams, and he'd chosen FSU at least in part because it was a place he could fast-track his football education.

The obvious knock on the 6-foot-6 offensive lineman as he prepares for the next level is his limited exposure to football. He has played just 20 games in his life, none until two years ago. But eight months at Florida State was enough to prove to himself he was ready.

"It was a goal of mine, and I knew it was attainable," Watson said. "Coming in and working with Coach [Rick] Trickett, trusting in and believing in what he was trying to do for me, and with the mindset I already had, I knew it was attainable."

Convincing NFL teams the same thing might be a slightly bigger hurdle.

Given his limited football pedigree, Watson is considered something of a wild card, but the potential is obvious. In draft projections, he has been routinely considered a late first-round or early second-round pick -- a project for an NFL team who might not require as much work as his resume suggests.

There's no question about Watson's talent. He has the size (320 pounds) and strength (he tried his hand at heavyweight boxing before turning to football full time), and the game tape from 2012 is impressive. Florida State allowed just 16 sacks during the 12 games Watson was on the field.

But for a player who didn't know how to get into a lineman's stance just two years ago, proving he's ready to take on professional pass-rushers is key. During last month's scouting combine, however, the job didn't seem too tough.

"I went into the meetings and told them what I knew," Watson said. "I thought it was kind of easy, actually."

Credit goes to Trickett, the enigmatic offensive line coach at Florida State whose gruff style doesn't always win over young prospects but proved a perfect approach for Watson.

"What young guys don't understand is, the way Coach Trickett teaches it, it's a business," Watson said. "We have a job to do. We get taught like pros. ... If you don't come with the mindset that you want it, you're going to struggle. A lot of high school kids don't understand that. A lot of players don't understand that. Everyone teaches in their own way, and Coach Trickett has his own way of teaching. But I've had coaches who would scream and yell and curse, but they didn't have a clue how to teach a kid something. But he does. People hear the screaming and hollering, but forget he's trying to teach something. I figured that out early."

Watson had played just eight games at the junior college level before arriving at FSU last summer. By the first week of the season he'd worked his way into the starting lineup. By year's end, he might have been the most effective member of a vastly improved offensive line, and suddenly those NFL dreams appeared within reach. He made the decision in early January to leave FSU and enter the draft.

From there, he headed to IMG Academy to prepare for the combine. There, he worked with a handful of top offensive line prospects, including Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, who could be the first overall selection in the draft. Watson wasn't intimidated.

"I was able to go out there and not worry about what this guy is doing or what that guy is doing," Watson said. "I don't believe anyone got coached the way I did, as hard as I did."

It was a boon for Watson, but it's a loss for Florida State. As Watson continues his draft preparations, Trickett will spend the spring searching for his replacement.

Leaving Florida State a year early wasn't a particularly tough decision, Watson said. He was pulled by the idea of spending another season learning from Trickett and playing with the same four linemen he'd grown to trust. But he'd waited long enough.

Last month, Watson settled in front of the television to watch the Super Bowl. It was just the third time in his life he'd watched the event, but this time was different.

"It was kind of neat watching it this year and thinking that this time next year I could be on a team challenging for a Super Bowl," he said. "I just want to get going wherever I'm going and get ready to work."