With three games still to go in the preseason, undrafted rookie A.J. Cole has won the punting job from Johnny Townsend.
The Raiders waived Townsend Tuesday, handing the job to Cole, a first-year pro out of North Carolina State.
As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group reported, Cole had consistently punted better than Townsend throughout training camp and through the summer’s first exhibition game, a 14-3 win over the Rams this past Saturday in Oakland.
Cole punted four times in that game for a 43.0-yard average, with a long of 49 while putting two inside the Rams’ 20-yard line. Townsend punted three times for a 42.3-yard average, a long of 55 and zero inside the 20.
As McDonald noted, the Raiders needed to clear some space on their training camp roster to replace injured players, which forced the early release of Townsend.
"We had a couple of injuries, so we need to sign some corners," head coach Jon Gruden told reporters. "To sign some players, you have to let some players go. Hate to see Johnny go. We still think he’s a real good punter. A.J. Cole deserves to be our guy at this point."
Townsend was a fifth-round pick of the Raiders last year. He was 19th in the NFL with a 43.2 gross average and 30th with a net average of 38.3. Over four years as the No. 1 punter for North Carolina State, Cole had a 42.2-yard average.
Gruden and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia believe Cole has terrific potential as a punter and kickoff specialist because of his power. Gruden has compared him to Shane Lechler and Marquette King, two previous Raiders punters known for their strong legs.
"He has a tremendous leg," Bisaccia has said. "He has a natural hang to him, kind of even on his bad ball he can kind of get away with it. He’s a high-hit guy on his contact on the ball and he’s really improved his holding (for kicker Daniel Carlson) as he’s come along. And he can kick off, so it gives us a little bit of an advantage that way with having the ability to have two guys that can kick off through preseason."
The Raiders play their second exhibition game Thursday night in Arizona vs. the Cardinals.