“Honestly,” said rookie punter Johnny Townsend postgame. “I don’t remember anything.”
Well, Johnny, let me refresh your memory.
After an unsuccessful third down conversion on the Oakland Raiders first series of their Week 10 clash against the Los Angeles Chargers, the rookie punter ran out onto the field – but even though the team was still in their own territory, Townsend would not be asked to punt.
Instead, after receiving the snap from Trent Sieg, Townsend took two steps, dug his foot in the ground and turned upfield, taking his first NFL carry 42 yards down the left sideline.
“[I] never ran one in college,” Townsend said of his first quarter highlight. “I never got to run one, not even in high school. That was the first time I’ve ever run with the football in a game.”
Townsend explained that the Chargers showed a pre-snap look the Silver and Black had identified as advantageous, and at that point, Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia gave him the go-ahead.
“We [he and Bisaccia] just made eye contact, and he said, ‘run it,’” Townsend recounted. “So that was pretty cool.”
The Raiders ultimately didn’t get any points following the fake punt – they ended up losing to the Bolts 20-6 Sunday afternoon – but Townsend’s run not only gave the team an early spark, but also allowed the former Florida Gator a chance to show off a little bit of athleticism.
“Being a punter, you don’t really get the opportunity to do things like that often, so when it happens, it’s pretty special,” he explained. “Those guys did a great job of preparing all week. We saw the look several times, and when it was there, they executed perfectly, and they gave me a running lane, so props to all those guys.”
And while Townsend’s first quarter fireworks were all anyone wanted to talk about postgame, let’s not forget that Sunday’s matchup against the Chargers was the rookie’s best, and most complete, of his young career.
“I have always said that I really believe in that kid,” Head Coach Jon Gruden said. “In that fake punt, you can see that he is one of our fastest players. He is a tremendous athlete. He took his medicine for a while like a lot of us, but he is going to be a really good punter for us.”
In total, Townsend punted three times, with a net average of 49.0, up 10.7 yards from his 38.3 net average his first eight games.
As Coach Gruden alluded, the rookie had his fair share of ups and downs over the first part of 2018, but according to Townsend, through the highs and lows, he did his best to stay consistent in his approach.
“I stay pretty even keel throughout,” Townsend explained. “In college we had so many opportunities to play the game, and be comfortable in that setting, so that’s a totally different ballgame than the league, so we were just trying to get used to that.”
Coming out of the University of Florida, Townsend was heralded for his directional punting ability, but with a 57-yard boot against the Chargers, he showed that when everything’s working, he has the ability to marry his directional kicks with pure power.
“If you can kick the ball far and high, often the direction doesn’t play as big of a factor,” he said. “If we can punt the ball like that in every game, and our gunners do a great job, I think we can execute that way too.”
Following their Week 10 loss, the Oakland Raiders are now 1-8, and while the positives at this juncture in the season are hard to find, the play of Townsend – and really the special teams unit as a whole – is reason to be optimistic the final seven games of the year.
Photos of the game action during the Raiders' Week 10 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers at the Coliseum.