Oakland Raiders' Position Battles: Specialists

Veteran report day is tomorrow for the Oakland Raiders, which means that our Position Battle series has come to an end.

Thanks for hanging out with us the past few weeks, we've had a ton of fun writing these; however, we have one more to go before football officially comes back, so today we end with a bang, looking at the Silver and Black's specialists.

I'll be honest, outside kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, there aren't very many – if any – familiar faces back in the fold in 2018, so let's get you familiar with the guys who will be handling the kicking and punting for Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia and the Raiders.

Familiar Faces:

Giorgio Tavecchio

New Guys:

Andrew DePaola

Drew Scott (rookie)

Eddy Piñeiro (rookie)

Johnny Townsend (rookie)

Overview: Almost the entire special teams battalion will look different for the Raiders in 2018, and there's a very real chance that this year the Raiders could boast a starting trio of specialists who were all playing football somewhere else last year.

After over a decade in Silver and Black, long snapper Jon Condo won't be back in 2018, while mercurial punter Marquette King now plays for the division rival Denver Broncos – who thought those pair of games could get even more drama filled?

Anyways, while Giorgio Tavecchio will indeed be back this year after handling the kicking duties in 2017, he'll have his work cut out for him as he battles it out with rookie Eddy Piñeiro over the next month or so.

Andrew DePaola – who the team signed in free agency – is the presumed starter at long snapper, although Drew Scott was signed as an undrafted free agent to presumably push the four-year vet.

Rookie Johnny Townsend is currently the only punter on the roster.

Battle to Watch:

Eddie Paskal: No surprise here, and Kyle's going to say the same thing, it's all about the kickers here.

Thrust into duty Week 1, and then eventually becoming "the guy" for all of 2017, Giorgio Tavecchio did an admirable job handling the kicking duties for the Silver and Black, connecting on 16 of 21 field goal attempts, and every extra point shot save one.

However, if he wants to be back for a second go round, he's going to have to fend off an uber-talented rookie, Eddy Piñeiro. Piñeiro, who played his college football at the University of Florida, is one of the best kickers in program history, and while he has yet to play an NFL snap, it's abundantly clear that this dude has a cannon for a leg.

The margin for error in the NFL is so slim these days that it feels like more often than not, a game comes down to who can – or cannot – make a kick down the stretch.

This is going to be one of the battles in training camp, so keep an eye on the two kickers when the team gets to work in Napa.

Kyle Martin: There's only one battle that will be the focus of the specialists group, and that's the duel between kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Eddy Piñeiro. Last season, Tavecchio took over kicking duties after Sebastian Janikowski was placed on the Reserve/Injured list making Tavecchio the team's primary placekicker from Week 1. The former University of California Berkeley Golden Bear was efficient in his first season, successfully converting 16 field goals, but as Eddie and I have shared, Gruden wants to create competition.

Piñeiro joins the group after an impressive senior season with the Florida Gators, and he boasts a cannon of a leg. In the early stages of the offseason, the two have looked neck and neck in drills, but the real fun will start in 11 on 11.

Storyline to Follow:

EP: Just how long does this kicking battle go on, and how long before either Piñeiro or Tavecchio establishes themselves as the lead dog?

My gut tells me this competition is going to likely go through the end of the preseason, but hey, you never know, if one of these guys comes out and grabs the job early, it could be a different story.

On paper, the two kickers seem to be matched pretty evenly, so I'm excited to watch them go toe-to-toe (no pun intended) over the next six weeks or so.

Kicking is as much a mental exercise as it as a physical one, so when things come down to the wire, and this battle is in its final days, I'll be interested to see who stays calm, cool and collected.

KM: Two will enter, one will remain — not to be overdramatic.

Who will be the starting kicker come Week 1? Only time will tell. Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia said during Mandatory Minicamp that both Tavecchio and Piñeiro are progressing, but who will distance themselves from the other, and at what point?

"It's been a good competition," Coach Bisaccia said back in June. "Giorgio [Tavecchio] has been in a league for a while, bounced himself around and really competed his butt off and you know the young guy's [Eddy Piñeiro] got a lot of talent. He hasn't played a lot of football, so it should be a good competition."

We'll just have to wait and see how this unfolds.

Keep an Eye on…

EP: Can we give a little bit of love to the only punter on the roster, please?

Johnny Townsend is indeed the only punter on the Raiders right now, and while he might not necessarily be battling it out with anyone for his job, he's certainly not a player lacking intrigue throughout training camp.

The former Florida Gator enjoyed a strong Offseason Workout Program, routinely showing off his coveted combination of directional punting, and raw power, but things will certainly be ratcheted up a notch here in Napa.

Not only will Townsend handle all the punting, but he'll be holding for both Piñeiro and Tavecchio's kicks, and considering one is right footed and the other left footed, that's no walk in the park.

I'm on the record as a devout disciple of special teams, so I'll definitely be watching Townsend during his rookie training camp, and you should be as well.

KM: Once again, Eddie and I are in lockstep here; Johnny Townsend.

Currently the only punter on the roster, the Raiders selected Townsend with a fifth-round pick, and it's safe to assume he's the team's punter of the future. Townsend has demonstrated his ability to coffin-corner punts, but even more importantly, he has also shown his consistent placement of the ball. He's also adjusted nicely to holding for a right and left footed kicker.

The former Florida Gator could very well play a crucial role in a game this season, and these next few weeks will be big for him.

Reviewing the Oakland Raiders specialists going into 2018 Training Camp.

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