2019 Position Battle: Specialists

Our Position Battle series wraps up today with a look at the Oakland Raiders specialists.

Yes, you read that correctly; after several weeks of breaking down the Raiders roster, we have finally come to the end which means that training camp is here.

Well, almost.

Rookies report Tuesday, the vets show up in Napa Friday, and then the first official practice of 2019 is Saturday, but you get the point.

Occasionally the forgotten or overlooked players on the roster, we here at Raiders.com stand in unison with the specialists, and historically, almost all teams that win big in the playoffs have elite special teams play.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the intriguing storylines surrounding the guys under the tutelage of assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.

Familiar faces:

Daniel Carlson

Andrew DePaola

Trent Sieg

Johnny Townsend

New guys:

A.J. Cole

Battle to watch:

EP: Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we have a good, old fashioned long snapper battle on our hands, and I’m going to posit a guess and say that the Raiders are the only team in the NFL this summer that has one of those.

Essentially, the battle boils down to the this; do Bisaccia and Head Coach Jon Gruden ride the hot hand with Trent Sieg, or does Andrew DePaola – the guy signed just a year ago to be the answer long term – get right back up on the proverbial horse and take his job back from the young fella?

This DePaola/Sieg heavyweight throwdown intrigues me for multiple reasons, but mostly because I have no idea how this is going to shake out.

As I alluded to above, Sieg did an outstanding job when he took over for DePaola in the early stages of 2018, and to be fair, the man hasn’t done anything to lose the job, if that makes sense.

On the other side of things, DePaola is a proven commodity and was signed to be “the guy” in March of last year.

Both guys have the skillset to earn the job, so Bisaccia is going to have a whale of a decision on his hands come roster reduction time.

KM: Surprisingly, there’s a couple of position battles I’m interested in, and I think they’ll both be crucial to the Raiders’ success in 2019; however, the punting job will be the primary battle.

The Raiders drafted former Florida Gator Johnny Townsend in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and while he showed glimpses of his big leg, the reality is he needs to improve and be more consistent. The Raiders finished last in the NFL last season with an average punt of 43.2 yards and only placed 17 within the 20-yard line. Both those areas need to improve because as we all know, field position can make or break a game. Credit Townsend with 16 appearances, though, and how can we forget his memorable fourth-down scamper for 42 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9.

Townsend will have to compete with rookie punter A.J. Cole, who joins the Silver and Black after four years at North Carolina State. During Cole’s time there, he amassed 9,288 yards punting, and had an overall average of 42.2 yards per punt.

Head Coach Jon Gruden has voiced his support for Townsend on several occasions, firmly believing he has the gusto to be an effective punter at the NFL level. We’ll see if he can rise to the occasion in his sophomore campaign.

Previewing the Raiders special teams heading into 2019 Training Camp. Kicker Daniel Carlson highlights the group coming off a successful first season with the Silver and Black.

Storyline to follow:

EP: Does Johnny Townsend right the ship in Year 2?

Look, we know there are parts of the former Florida Gator’s rookie campaign that he likely wishes went a little bit better. There were times when Townsend just wasn’t consistent as he needed to be, but to be fair, I feel as though his struggles were slightly exasperated by the fact that the Raiders just didn’t win a ton of games last year.

Now, does Johnny to need to be a lot better in his second season as a pro to keep a firm hold on the Silver and Black’s punting job? He sure does, and he’ll be pushed this year by the presence of rookie A.J. Cole.

Although the Raiders signed Cole in early-May, I still do expect to Townsend to be the team’s punter come September 9 when they open the year against the Denver Broncos.

That said, watching how No. 5 goes about business throughout camp will certainly be something to note.

KM: It was unfortunate when then-recently signed long snapper Andrew DePaola tore his ACL during the opening game of the 2018 season. DePaola was expected to be the team’s starting long snapper for the foreseeable future, but Rich Bisaccia needed to find a replacement for his unit quickly.

Following DePaola’s season-ending injury, the Raiders signed Trent Sieg in mid-September, opting to roll with the rookie out of Colorado State, and he didn’t disappoint. Sieg made his first appearance Week 2 and played in every game for the remainder of the year. I can’t remember the Colorado native botching a single snap, and the reps he put in with Townsend have given the two a familiarity with one another. It’s for that reason I wonder whether Rich Bisaccia will keep the Sieg-Townsend pairing together, or if they’ll give DePaola the job back now that he’s healthy.

This could’ve been my position battle to watch and it’ll be one of the under-the-radar stories of training camp.

Keep an eye on…

EP: Daniel Carlson.

After one bad day at the office against the San Francisco 49ers, Carlson finished his rookie campaign scalding hot.

When all was said and done, the former Auburn Tiger connected on an absurd 94 percent of his kicks, including every attempt he had from 50-plus.

It sure looks like the Silver and Black have found their kicker of the future in young Mr. Carlson, but even so, now that he’s essentially entrenched in a one-man competition against himself, I’m curious to see if he can keep riding the positive momentum of a blistering end to his first season as a Raider.

Kyle predicted that Carlson would go perfect this year (spicy take alert), and while I’m not sure No. 8 will complete every single kick he attempts, I do expect 2019 to be very good to him.

Just how good remains to be seen, but camp will give us a good idea of where he’s at.

KM: The Rookies.

Every year a new batch of rookies enters the league looking to make their imprint, and the best way for them to do that is on special teams.

The Raiders have a handful of players from the 2019 Draft Class eager to contribute in any way they can. After being drafted, No. 27 overall pick Johnathan Abram asked Rich Bisaccia if he could play on special teams, and I’m sure he appreciated the safety’s enthusiasm I think the coaching staff has other plans for the talented defensive back. His mentality and desire to do whatever is necessary to help the team win is the exact approach every player should take, and fellow rookies Isaiah Johnson and Foster Moreau share the same desire.

One area of the special teams unit I’m excited to watch unfold during training camp and the preseason is the gunner positions. I think Isaiah Johnson can be a great fit and a great way for him to see more playing time, considering he’s in a talented cornerbacks room and reps will be limited.

Question you want answered by the end of training camp:

EP: This is an easy one – who’s the long snapper?

Two men enter, one man will win the job.

Game on, gentlemen.

KM: It comes back to the punting job for me.

I hope to see more consistency from Townsend and that he’s taken a few steps forward in his development. I know he has the potential to be a reliable punter for the team, and if all goes according to plan the Raiders should make strides in field position this season.

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