The Oakland Coliseum has become legendary in professional sports annals when it comes to homefield advantage. The Raider Nation is a force to be reckoned with on game day. According to second-year Raider wide receiver Todd Watkins, it all works.
"It's the best place I've ever played. I played here as a visitor and it was intimidating. We definitely have a home field advantage," Watkins said.
After being on the fans' good-side at the Oakland Coliseum in 2008, Watkins hopes to make more of an impact with the playing time he hopes to earn this year. He made eight appearances last season, a career-high for the wideout originally taken in the 7th round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Watkins played high school ball at Helix High School (San Diego, Calif.), on a team that included New Orleans Saints running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush as well as 49ers QB Alex Smith.
"It's one of the premier places in San Diego to play. It's a big time football school. Kids all around the county want to go there. They've got a great winning tradition," Watkins explained.
While some of his teammates went on to large Division I programs, Watkins ended up at Grossmont College in nearby El Cajon, Calif. He impressed the BYU coaching staff enough with his play for the Griffins that they offered him a scholarship following the 2003 season. Even though he'd been the Region III Offensive Player of the Year and averaged 22.9 yards a reception his last year at Grossmont, Watkins says the transition from small to big school cannot be understated.
"It's not easy. It's really intimidating. I've been around a lot of good players, players better then me, that aren't playing in the NFL right now, so I'm thankful to be where I am today," Watkins said.
Thankfully, he was able to adjust to life in the Mountain West Conference, being named as the nation's top deep-threat by Sports Illustrated following his first year with the Cougars. He was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2006 draft, but after two seasons on practice squads, he hopes he's found a home here in Oakland. His familiarity with the offense going into this season should help take his game to the next level.
"The system's really similar. For me, it's the first time I've had the same offense to come back to. It's been really easy for me. I'm expecting to expand my role to fit into any position they need me in," Watkins said.
Watkins won't be alone in his quest to improve the receiving numbers from last year either. The team drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy in this year's NFL Draft in the first and fourth round, respectively, and having learned three offensive schemes in four years, Watkins looks to help the rookies as they try and grasp a new playbook.
"They're good rookies. I've enjoyed being around them in the meeting rooms and the locker room. They are definitely going to help this team," Watkins said.
And as for what he expects from the 2009 Silver and Black squad with those guys on board?
"People will see that once the season starts. I can see big differences now as opposed to last year," Watkins added. "We are light years ahead of where we were last year. We're going to be a lot better then people are giving us credit for."