The competition between incumbent punter Johnny Townsend and undrafted rookie AJ Cole played out in Saturday’s preseason opener much like it has all camp. The two punters split time in the game. Cole had four punts and Townsend had three. And even with Townsend launching a 55-yard punt in the game, Cole still had a better average (43.0 yards per punt). Cole also had two punts stopped inside the 20 while Townsend had none.
Here’s how their punts went:
Townsend — 34 yards to the 21, 55 yards returned 6 yards to the 23, 38 yards fair caught at the 20.
Cole — 46 yards fair caught at the 29, 33 yards downed at the 10, 44 yards downed at the 31, 49 yards fair caught at the 18.
This performance is not shocking. Townsend hasn’t looked really any different than he did last season when he was statistically the worst punter in football. Meanwhile the upstart Cole has done well with the occasional moon shot, showcasing his potential as a punter.
I wrote of Cole this camp, comparing him to former Raiders punter Marquette King. Gruden did that and more following Saturday’s game.
“We’ve got a battle there,” said Gruden. “I think Townsend has got his hands full in AJ Cole. It’s going to be interesting down the stretch. Cole proved he can kick off which adds to his versatility. He downed it inside the 20 a couple times. He put an orbital display the other day against the against the Rams. We haven’t seen kicks like that since [Shane] Lechler was here or [Marquette] King. This guy really has a live leg and it looks like he can directional punt and hold. So Townsend has his hands full. We like Townsend too. It will be a battle here in the next couple weeks.”
Gruden talks about there being a punter battle in Oakland while simultaneously talking like there really isn’t much of a battle anymore. And, honestly, there may not be. Cole has thoroughly outperformed incumbent Johnny Townsend. Gruden isn’t just trying to talk up a young player, he’s merely calling it as it is.