Marquette King a renaissance man, though punting is his specialty

Marquette King a renaissance man, though punting is his specialty

SARASOTA, Fla. – Raiders players had free time on Monday afternoon, and most scattered through the Sarasota Ritz Carlton hotel and the surrounding town.

Not Marquette King. The Raiders punter found a baby grand piano and started tickling the ivories. He wasn’t practicing chop sticks. The guy can flat play.

“I’m like Nick Cannon,” King said. “I can’t read music, but I can play what I can hear.”

King can flat punt, too.

While he simplifies his duty to catch it and kick it, it’s a bit more complicated than that. King seems to have mastered the art in his fourth season and the Raiders’ full-time punter.

This season could be his best, and that’s saying something. He’s averaging 42.4 net yards per attempt – the highest of his career – and has put 15 of 34 punts inside the 20-yard line. To top off that excellent stat line, he only has three touchbacks.

King had an excellent day against Jacksonville. He averaged 50.6 net yards over five punts and put four inside the 20. He also made one hard to catch. Jacksonville’s Rashad Greene muffed a punt that Andre Holmes recovered, giving the Raiders the short field required to score an easy touchdown.

Oh, and there was something about a 27-yard run off a bad snap, where he earned a first down with surprising speed.

What was King thinking on that crucial run, one that helped put Jacksonville down on Sunday afternoon?

"I just thought that,” King said, “if I ran fast enough, my ratings would go up on Madden.”

That earned some honors. King was named AFC special teams player of the week on Tuesday morning.

King, a master of social media, came up with a term for doing all that: Punthlete.

That’s an accurate term for someone among the first of his kind, a rare athlete who has become a real weapon for a quality Raiders team.

He can do other things, but earns a great living specializing in one thing.

“There ain’t nothing to really talk about,” King said. “You just catch the ball and punt it. There’s technique to it, but…”

King trailed off at that point. He isn’t interested in talking about his craft. The guy knows how to have a good time, whether it’s acting like a mannequin in a Sarasota Gap store, playing drums with a local band or playing soul music without much effort.

King taught himself how to play piano two seasons ago out of boredom on road trips, and learned the trade pretty fast.

“When I see pianos in the lobby, I just wanted to play it,” King said. “Now that I know how to play it, I can just play.

“I need it myself. It’s therapy.”

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.