Johnny Townsend came to the Oakland Raiders as a collegiate boomer. After year one, the former Florida Gator proved to be a professional buster.
Taken in the fifth round, the big-legged punter struggled as a rookie with a net punting average of 38.3 (30th in the league) and dropping boots inside the opponent’s 20-yard line just 17 times out of 70 punts.
“I don’t think any of us were pleased with how we punted throughout the course of the year,” said Raiders special teams boss Rich Bisaccia. “I think Johnny would probably say the same thing. He’s really a directional-type guy. But anytime you go through a skill position as a rookie and play all 16 games, there’s going to be some ups and downs and I think he weathered them both.”
So, it was no surprise another punter is on the roster — rookie A.J. Cole — with intentions of a competition heading into training camp.
“I think (Townsend is) in a competition as well with A.J. We’re really excited about the work that both of them have done,” Bisaccia noted.
Let’s compare Townsend’s and Cole’s collegiate careers (by the numbers):
- Townsend: 46.2 average and 11,090 yards and 240 punts in four years at Florida.
- Cole: 42.2 average and 9,288 yards on 220 punts in four years at North Carolina State.
While Townsend came in as a power punter sans directional abilities, Cole comes in as a touch punter who can drop it in inside the 20. The former shanked and shorted kicks routinely in 16 NFL games. As a result, that gave the opposition favorable field position time and again. The Raiders lackluster defense stayed in the most inconvenient situations. To his credit, Townsend is pulling no kicks to remedy that.
“He’s really done a great job working on his hang time,” he said Wednesday. “That’s improved tremendously (over) the course of the year. Now, we’ve given up a little bit of direction to get his hang time where he’d like it to be, and hopefully we can get both — the hang and the direction — going into training camp.”
While Cole succeeds at directional punting, dropping nearly 47 percent inside the 20 in 2018, his mediocre leg strength remains a glaring weakness.
Due in large part to the offense’s inadequacies in 2018, a big-legged punter was a requirement in 2018 as the Raiders couldn’t consistently cross the opponent’s 50-yard line. The ability to drastically alter field position is what made former stalwart punter Shane Lechler such a weapon. However, with a revamped offense that boasts serious firepower, perhaps a hangtime specialist who can put the opposing offenses’ back closest to the goal line is the need. If that is indeed the case, perhaps either Townsend or Cole will do.