Note: This is the first in a 10-part series breaking down each position group before Raiders training camp begins, Friday, July 29.
The Raiders hit the field for their first full team workout of training camp exactly a week from today in Napa.
Rookies report earlier and the rest of the team checks in on Thursday — the first day of media availability for yours truly and others — but the action on the field starts next Friday.
The Raiders are in a pretty nice position with limited major position battles as they head to Napa, but we’ll still take a look at each position group as we get ready for them to hit the field.
Today, we’ll start with the special teams.
The Raiders have two on the roster in veteran Sebastian Janikowski, who begins his 17th NFL season — all in the Silver and Black — and camp leg Giorgia Tavecchio, a former Cal product.
Is this the year Tavecchio pushes Janikowski for the job? Unlikely. His career consists of four preseasons played with four different teams, including last year with the Raiders. He was 3 of 4 on field goal attempts during the preseason last year and is 8 of 11 on his career. His longest field goal as a Raider was a 39-yard kick and he’s all 11 of 11 on PAT attempts.
It would seem like if the Raiders are ready to give Janikowski some competition for the job, they’d look to bring someone in with some real experience or at least not a guy who has yet to crack a roster in four training camp shots. Janikowski enters the year tied with Jason Hanson for the record for most 50-plus yard field goal attempts and here’s betting he breaks that sometime this season.
Nothing to see here. Marquette King is the only punter on the roster and showed off Pro Bowl potential during the 2015 season as he improved his directional kicking to go along with a strong leg. He’s a workhorse at practice to the point that the Raiders don’t even have a camp leg in at the position to ease his workload.
Here’s special teams coordinator Brad Seely on King from back at mini camp.
“I think he’s done a very nice job of becoming a better directional punter. I think the key is for, really at any position, especially for a punter, is consistency. How many times can you kick a really good ball in a row and how many times does your bad punt show up, because everybody has a bad punt. The key is (is) limit those and can we live with those bad punts. That’s what he’s done a better job of, in my opinion, is his overall consistency. Whether it’s on the short field, the plus 20’s that we’re always talking about, or even on the long field when he’s trying to get the ball to the side of the field for us to cover.”
Jon Condo has been the guy for the past nine seasons for the Raiders, who this offseason added Andrew East to compete with Condo. East, a Vanderbilt product, spent time with the Chiefs and Seahawks, but has yet to appear on a team’s regular season roster.
Condo should be fine after last season’s shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the final three games, but it wouldn’t be surprising if East is given a real chance to push Condo, who is entering the final year of his contract.
TJ Carrie is your incumbent here and Seely has already suggested anybody else would have to take the job away from him. He averaged 6.2 yards per return last season with a long of 22 yards and now can approach the role with the benefit of not being counted on as a key defensive starter (obviously, I’m sure he’d rather be that, but it’s a benefit for the Raiders to have their punt returner not be a key part of their other units).
Undrafted free agent cornerback Antonio Hamilton had a lot of college success as a returner, with three career punt return touchdowns and a 21.7 yard per return average on 23 attempts at South Carolina State.
UDFA wide receiver Joe Hansley returned two punts for touchdowns last year at Colorado State and has three for his collegiate career and will be interesting to watch. The fifth wide receiver position could and probably should go to a guy who can be a dynamic return option. Similarly, Jaydon Mickens has gotten looks at punt return despite only having four career punt returns in college.
Seely is high on Taiwan Jones and it would be surprising if he’s not the guy, assuming he stays healthy. “If someone is going to do well, they’re going to have to do well to beat Taiwan out because Taiwan is a good player,” Seely said. Jones averaged 26.7 yards per return last year.
The game has changed this season with touchbacks going out to the 25-yard line, just as they have in college the past few years. That makes it more imperative to make good decisions on taking the ball out from the end zone or fielding the short kicks that some teams may choose to employ.
Mickens, while not that experienced at punt return, did return kicks quite a bit as a freshman at Washington (19 for 408 yards, though none after that season). Johnny Holton, another UDFA receiver, returned 45 kicks over the past two seasons at Cincinnati for 942 yards. Jalen Richard had a kick return for a touchdown last year at Southern Mississippi and averaged 25.7 yards per return in his college career (he also returned punts).
Hamilton, in addition to his punt return success in college, averaged 24.8 yards per kick return on 33 chances and had two touchdowns.