If Raider Nation has a good memory, they should know how important the holder position is for kickers.
When Shane Lechler left the Oakland Raiders, punter Marquette King became the new holder for Sebastian Janikowski and it was not a seamless transition at all. Janikowski missed three of his first eight attempts of the 2013 season.
Oakland has a new punter in fifth round rookie Johnny Townsend. And to make the situation even more difficult than King’s in 2013, Townsend has to hold for the left-footed Giorgio Tavecchio and the right-footed Eddy Piñeiro in their battle for the team’s kicker job.
Townsend was the holder for Piñeiro at Florida, but has never held for a left footed kicker in a game. And yet has been no issue for him. Mainly because he saw an NFL coach as his fellow Florida punter Kyle Christy to hold from either said. That prompted him to work on each week, as he said, “In case that opportunity presented itself.
It has presented itself. And he was ready for it.
“That’s just something I’ve always been able to pick up pretty quickly,” Townsend said Tuesday. “We work it every day. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of reps from the right and left side since I‘ve been here. It’s starting to become smooth and the operation is so clean. It’s coming along really well.”
Tavecchio and Piñeiro kick field goals on alternating days in practice, so at least Townsend doesn’t need to jump back and forth on the fly. Tavecchio is so impressed by Townsend, both as a holder and as a punter, he calls him “Captain America”.
It’s a rare situation to be in. Rare enough that special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia has never seen it before, but he had a theory as to why Townsend is able to do it.
“I haven’t had a lefty and a righty before in a camp, so he’s been outstanding,” Bisaccia said. “When I went to work him out, I asked him to do both. It was pretty natural for him. He’s been a catcher his whole life in baseball, so I think he has a little naturalness to him about getting in that kind of awkward position of putting himself in a holder’s stance...I can’t explain it. I thought it would be a big issue with it, but it’s been an easy transition for him.”
And Townsend agrees with Bisaccia that his baseball history has played a positive role in his holding duties.
“That squatting position, the hand-eye coordination, I think it all plays into it,” Townsend said. “I was a two-sport guy my whole life and just seeing the ball, catching the ball, placing the ball is critical.”
Judging by the reactions from those around Townsend, he is surely on his way to making “the biggest impact that [he] possibly can” on this football team.