Why Jon Gruden likens rookie A.J. Cole to past Raiders punting legends


OAKLAND -- To a man, there wasn't a whole lot to watch Saturday night in the Raiders' 14-3 preseason-opening win over the Los Angeles Rams.

A number of starters -- including Derek Carr, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, Vontaze Burfict and Gareon Conley -- didn't suit up at the Coliseum. Antonio Brown, of course, still is working through his helmet issue and a foot ailment.

So, aside from the Raiders' backup quarterback competition between Nathan Peterman and Mike Glennon, what was there to take away from what likely was the final preseason game in Oakland? The punters, of course.

Johnny Townsend, who started for the Raiders last season, is facing a stiff battle from undrafted rookie A.J. Cole this fall. In his first NFL action, Cole came to play.

The rookie showed a big leg against the Rams, booming punts of 46, 44 and 49 yards. Cole stuck two punts inside the Rams' 20-yard line, including one at the LA 10. All four of his punts landed inside the Rams' 31. The Rams also did not even attempt to return one of Cole's punts, as two were fair caught and two were downed. 

Raiders coach Jon Gruden had high praise for the rookie punter.

"I think Townsend has got his hands full with A.J. Cole," Gruden said after the game. "It's going to be interesting down the stretch. Cole proved he could kick off, which adds to his versatility. He downed them inside the 20, I think, a couple of times. He put on a display the other day 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, hold, so Townsend has his hands full. We like Townsend, too. It'll be a battle the next couple weeks."

That's high praise for Cole, but it certainly looks like he has the leg to live up to it.

[RELATED: Gruden, Raiders 'support' AB in helmet grievance with NFL]

The great punter battle of 2019 rages on, but Cole has a leg up at the moment.

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