Last season, the Raiders special teams play was anything but special. Sebastian Janikowski missed several kicks he should have made and has said since that he was affected by the change from having Shane Lechler holding for him for 13 years to have Marquette King as his holder.
For King's part, he was raw power with no finesse and it took half the season before one could see real improvement in that area.
The return game was a travesty. The coaching staff tried one last time to get something out of Jacoby Ford to no avail. They cycled through Taiwan Jones and Greg Jenkins at kick and punt returner and could get nothing going.
All of these issues needed to be remedied and this unit has the potential to flip the script this season. Here is what the special teamers look like in training camp.
K Sebastian Janikowski, P Marquette King, K/P Michael Palardy
LS Jon Condo
KR Taiwan Jones, PR TJ Carrie, KR/PR Greg Jenkins
TJ Carrie comes was the team's first seventh round pick. He comes in as the favorite to land the kick return duties. The Raiders signed undrafted free agent left footed kicker/punter Michael Palardy their camp leg this year.
The big question
Can Sebastian Janikowski and Marquette King get their chemistry as kicker and holder?
Last season Janikowski missed quite a few kicks (21 of 30), several of which should have been easy for him. He said this off-season that it was a "trust issue" between he and King as the holder. Janikowski had Shane Lechler as his holder for the first 13 years of his career so the change caused some issues for him. They have said they've worked on their chemistry and Janikowski looks to return to being one of the better kickers in the league. It would seem all the more appropriate with Ray Guy finally getting in the Hall of Fame this year.
Best case scenario
There is a very real possibility the Raiders can return to having the best kicker/punter tandem in the NFL. Marquette King had the best yards per punt average in the NFL last season. He hasn't lost any of that power but has been working on his directional punting and placement all off-season. A little improvement in that area would make for less returns and touchbacks which would improve his net punt average. Combine that with he and Janikowski working out their issues with holding on field goals and it would be the glory days in Oakland once again.
Worst case scenario
Finding someone to return kicks and punts has been difficult of late. Not since Jacoby Ford's rookie season in 2010 have the Raiders had anyone who would make things happen in the return game. Taiwan Jones has teased the Raiders for years with his world class speed and his suspect ball security. TJ Carrie is a rookie who had success in college but that doesn't always transfer over to success in the NFL. Neither is proven at the NFL level and could both stumble, leaving the Raiders with poor field position to start every drive.
If Taiwan Jones and TJ Carrie were to hold onto their respective jobs in the return game, it could be an interesting rivalry as both faced each other in track and football over three years in high school. Both are Antioch natives. Carrie went to De La Salle and Jones went to Deer Valley High.
Marquette King is a former college wide receiver. He began punting late in his college career at Fort Valley State and quickly became known for his big leg. When the Raiders signed him, he was very raw and had no shot to displace Shane Lechler. After an inconsistent training camp, he was place on IR with a foot injury. The next year, Lechler left for Houston and after another off-season and training camp for King, he was ready to take over the job. It's been quite a ride for him.
King may have led the league in yards per punt average (48.9) last season but he was second in the NFL in touchbacks (11), and 31st in fair catches (11). This put his net punt average at 12th in the league (40.1). His net punt average was 0.1 more than his predecessor, Shane Lechler (40.0), with the Texans.