The Las Vegas Raiders have one of the more youthful special teams units in the NFL, featuring Daniel Carlson, AJ Cole, and Trent Sieg, all 25 or younger. The trio is entering its second season together, and over Carlson, Cole, and Sieg's first couple years in the NFL they've been able to grow together — through the good and the bad — which has forged a special bond between the threesome.
It started in the meeting room, but their friendship has grown off the field, and it's enhanced their communication on the field. Last year, the trio worked together for the first time, and there were naturally some miscues as a result; however, they've made it a priority to spend time together this offseason.
"Me and AJ have actually been kicking together in Birmingham and at Auburn," Carlson shared, "so, we've been kicking at least once a week, twice a week together, which was great to get a feel, but I wanted to come out to Vegas and get all three of us together."
Monday, Carlson posted a video on Twitter showing the trio training in Las Vegas, with the "The Boys Are Back in Town" dubbed in. There are few songs that embody male camaraderie more than Thin Lizzy's hit song. Sieg snapping, Cole holding and Carlson kicking; the gang is reunited.
As their friendship has grown, their level of comfort with each other has followed suit, and it's benefitted some of the corrections they've needed to address.
"We can push each other and being comfortable with each other to be able, to be honest," Carlson said when asked how the trio's relationship off the field affects their communication. "If AJ's hold is a little left or a little right, whatever it is, obviously we're good friends, but I'm going to push him to be the best holder he can be, and he's going to push me to be the best kicker I can be, and the same goes for Trent [Sieg]."
Even though Carlson, Cole, and Sieg appear to be a part of the Raiders' future going forward, that doesn't mean Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock aren't going to bring in some competition.
Following the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Raiders signed undrafted free agent long snapper Liam McCullough and kicker Dominik Eberle.
"We're doing what we can to help the team and it's comfortable to be in a room that we're in, but it's also great to have new blood in there and push each other and compete," Carlson explained. "I think it's kind of a perfect storm. Obviously, AJ did a great job winning the job last year, and now we have two new rookies, but in our mind, we're going to control what we can control to compete, and the best person is going to win the job."
Rather than exclude the rookies from their training sessions, Carlson, Cole, and Sieg have decided to embrace the newcomers, knowing the challenges of being new to the NFL.
"I wanted to take the rookies under our wing a little because I remember what it was like for me coming in, and you have lots of questions, and you're trying to figure things out at this new level," Carlson recalled. "So, I think it was important for all of us to get together and spend some time working together."
The boys are back and they're making room for a couple more. As the season nears, the competition will increase, but don't expect it to impact any friendships off the field.