Training Camp Notebook: Special teams takes center stage at Thursday practice

What’s up, everybody? It’s me, your resident special teams advocate, Eddie Paskal, checking in from Napa.

After a league-mandated off day Wednesday, the Oakland Raiders were back to work Thursday morning, and following the day’s session, Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia addressed the media for the first time this training camp.

The man charged with running the Silver and Black’s special teams units spoke on a variety of topics, so let’s get into it, and find out what we learned from Bisaccia’s time at the podium:

First things first; with two punters and two long snappers on the roster – more on both those groups in a bit – the only man seemingly with a spot etched in stone on the Raiders roster is second-year kicker Daniel Carlson.

After a stellar first season as a Raider, the former Auburn Tiger is running unopposed in 2019, and while the Silver and Black are hoping for the same results as last year, this version of Daniel Carlson is slightly different.

“I think he’s stronger and I think he knows himself a little bit better than he did when we first got him last year,” said Bisaccia. “He’s done a lot of work on himself. I think he’s stronger. I think, mentally, he knows himself a little bit better.”

That said, since Carlson is the only placekicker on the 90-man roster, Bisaccia is unsurprisingly monitoring how many kicks No. 8 takes throughout the team’s in Napa.

“He’s going to kick every other day,” Bisaccia explained. “There shouldn’t be a situation, there could be possibly one in training camp, that he goes two days in a row, but right now he’s going every other day. Usually it’s not more than 15-17 graded snaps in the set before the team set. Usually a team set is around five or six.”

Now, onto the gentlemen charged with – among other things – holding for Carlson, A.J. Cole and Johnny Townsend.

While Townsend is the incumbent after appearing in all 16 games last year, the rookie from North Carolina State brings an NFL skillset to the table, and watching the pair go back and forth all camp will be something to monitor.

“He has a tremendous leg,” Bisaccia said of Cole. “He has a natural hang to him, kind of even on his bad ball he can kind of get away with it. He’s a high-hit guy on his contact on the ball and he’s really improved his holding as he’s come along. And he can kickoff, so it gives us a little bit of an advantage that way with having the ability to have two guys that can kickoff through preseason.”

The two punters have alternated days since arriving in Napa, and with Thursday scheduled as a “Cole” day, Johnny Townsend was a spectator for much for of the day’s work.

“I thought he had a good offseason,” Bisaccia said when asked about Townsend. “I had a chance to be with him a bunch, certainly at our facility. I thought he had a good offseason. I thought he got his direction back and that’s really what he’s best at, so we will see as training camp goes but I thought he hit it okay the other day. I know he can hit it better than that.”

Finally, Bisaccia also spoke about the two-man battle for long snapper, an intriguing proposition that features young upstart Trent Sieg and veteran Andrew DePaola.

So, what exactly does one look for in a long snapper battle? I’m glad you asked.

“There’s so many things,” Bisaccia explained. “Everything from where are the laces on the catch on the short snaps and their ability to protect the A-gap, and as far as the B-gap, in the punt protection sets. And the ability to have any kind of awareness as to when the front changes and can he redirect on those things. They both played in games. Trent [Sieg] has played in 15 and Andrew [DePaola] has been playing a long time, so it’s a good competition right now. They are both in great shape. We are glad Andrew is healthy, so we are going to rotate those guys all through training camp as well.”

Antonio Brown, Derek Carr, and the Raiders new additions have understandably been the talk of training camp, but don’t sleep on the specialists.

As a wise man once told me, all teams that make noise in the postseason have elite special teams units.

Notable:

-After going through a limited portion of practice on Tuesday, Antonio Brown did not participate at all Thursday.

-In the 2019 version of the NFL, the running back has to be able to pass protect, and Jalen Richard showed Thursday that he can do just that, standing up a safety trying to sprint through the gap. Doug Martin did the same thing on the very next rep, much to the delight of his teammates on the offensive side of the football.

-Linebacker Jason Cabinda made sure to get his too though, taking down one of the Raiders running backs behind the line of scrimmage later in that same period.

-Once again – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Darren Waller had another big day, making himself constantly available for Derek Carr and the Raiders quarterbacks. His best play of the day – in my humble opinion – came in the form of a sideline, toe-tap grab during one of the day’s seven-on-seven sessions.

-Big Jonathan Hankins made sure that he ate on Thursday morning too, bursting through the offensive line and getting to the quarterback for what would have a been sack in a regular game.

-Quick Daniel Carlson update: the man stayed hot today, connecting on five of his six field goal attempts on the narrow uprights.

After a day off, the Raiders return to the practice fields in Napa, Calif. for training camp practice.

-We saw a little work on situational football Thursday morning from Jon Gruden’s squad, as the team worked on some time management/end of game situations before calling it a day.

Quotable:

Safety Lamarcus Joyner on his role mentoring the younger DBs on the roster:

“I just love the guys here. They recognize my accomplishments as a good football player. I don’t look at myself as anything great. I’m still trying to become great. I have seen and I know a lot. My biggest goal while I’m here is to pour out myself for the guys around me so we can be a great defense. Selfless, all about my guys.”

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Welcome to the grind.

The Raiders are back in action Friday morning.

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