The Raiders’ training camp that opens this week will be filled with storylines and position battles.
One of the more interesting but under-the-radar duels will come at punter, where veteran free-agent signee Chris Kluwe will try to hold off strong-legged but inexperienced Marquette King.
For the first time since the 2000 season, someone other than Shane Lechler will be doing the punting for Oakland. Lechler – who signed with the Houston Texans this offseason – remains a Pro Bowl-caliber player who had a net punting average of 39.0 in 2012, his first sub-40-yard average since 2003. Yet the Raiders deemed him a too-expensive option and allowed him to leave.
Now, the Raiders go into training camp with a competition between opposites.
First, there is Kluwe, who punted for the Minnesota Vikings for eight seasons and has a net career punting average of 38.8 yards. On the field, Kluwe has been a steady if unspectacular performer. He doesn’t have the booming leg of Lechler, but has had just one punt blocked in his eight seasons and has been good at avoiding touchbacks and pinning teams inside their own 20-yard line. Off the field, Kluwe is outspoken, smart, opinionated and often funny, talking about everything from his punting career to gay rights, World of Warcraft games and current events.
King, on the other hand, showed a boom-or-bust leg in his training camp with the Raiders last year and has a leg much more akin to Lechler’s. The second-year pro from little Fort Valley State is a 6-foot-1, 192-pounder who averaged 43 yards per punt in his final year at the school – where he was a first-team all-conference selection and his team’s most valuable player. Sixteen of his punts were for 50 yards or more, and he once had an 80-yarder.
But in training camp last season, he alternated boomers with occasional shanks. So how he does in camp and in exhibition games will determine what kind of threat he poses to Kluwe.
King obviously is excited for his second chance to make the Raiders, posting on Twitter late Tuesday night a photo of his football shoes, backpack and luggage, all ready to go for his flight to the Bay Area for the start of work, with the message: “Just finished packing for tomorrow … Let’s get this show on the road!”
Kluwe, too, has been committed to get off on the right foot with his new team. At one point this offseason, he turned down an invitation to the White House because it conflicted with scheduled workouts with the Raiders.
“Immediately knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it,” Kluwe told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I can’t take off. You don’t want to be that guy. These are important practices for the team, even for the punter. You are bonding with the team.”
Said head coach Dennis Allen: “I think his job is to really focus in on making our football team and that needs to be the biggest focus that he has right now. Right now he’s of the same mindset.”
King spent the 2012 season on injured reserve with the Raiders, who certainly are excited about his potential. So, King has been able to hone his skills for the past 12 months for his second chance. Over the next few weeks, he needs to show he can be consistent to beat out Kluwe. The upside with King could be much higher, but King’s downside could be devastating.
Allen noted that when speaking about King recently.
“It’s consistency,” the coach said of King. “It’s really unlike any other position, but the guys that can be the most consistent in the National Football League, those end up being the best players. That’s one of the things he’s got to continue to work on. I think he’s improved that. I don’t think he’s where he needs to be yet, but he has improved in that area.”