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

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.

Derek Carr plans to honor Kobe Bryant by wearing arm sleeve this season

Derek Carr plans to honor Kobe Bryant by wearing arm sleeve this season

Kobe Bryant was a giant in the sports world, and his tragic death left an impact that won't soon be forgotten by athletes, fans and media members alike.

Derek Carr grew up a California kid who idolized the Los Angeles Lakers star, watching all of Bryant's brilliance that he could. Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in January, was Carr's sports hero growing up, and the Raiders quarterback will honor Bryant by wearing an armband on his left arm this season.

"I tried my best to think,' What would be a cool way to honor Kobe?'" Carr told Raiders reporters in a Zoom conference call Tuesday. "This is a personal thing, I don't care what anyone else thinks about it. This is for me. What would be a cool way to honor Kobe Bryant? He always wore an arm sleeve on his arm. I was like, 'Well, I can't wear one on my right arm, so I'll wear one on my left arm.'

"It's really just to honor Kobe. I'm sure you'll see a lot of players doing that with number changes ... I think you'll see a lot of players just wanting to honor him, because as a kid I watched every YouTube video, I watched every game. I would tell my dad by the way he ran down the court, 'This is going to be a post-up fadeaway. He's set him up." And it would happen. I just watched everything.

"He just meant so much to me. Then, when I got to know him. Then, he followed me on Twitter, that blew my mind. That was the day of my life. Just getting to know him, talk to him, have conversations with him, just what he meant to me as an athlete. The Mamba Mentality is trying to be the best version of yourself every day. I have the big old poster in my office, my weight room now with that Mamba Mentality mantra on it. It's just a way to honor him, so I'll wear it all year. The only reason is to honor him and just what he meant to me as a kid growing up."

[RELATED: How Mariota impressed Gruden early in Raiders tenure]

Carr and the Raiders are entering a new chapter after they moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas this offseason. Now in Year 3 of Jon Gruden's rebuilding project, Carr is hoping he can build off the solid season he had last year and lead the Raiders back to the playoffs.

All while doing so with the spirit of Bryant on his left arm.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Raiders' Jeremiah Valoaga, D.J. Killings opt out of 2020 NFL season

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Raiders' Jeremiah Valoaga, D.J. Killings opt out of 2020 NFL season

Two Raiders have been added to the growing list of NFL players opting out of the 2020 season.

Former UNLV defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga and cornerback D.J. Killings are the first two players from the organization to make the decision.

The moves were confirmed by an official transaction announced by the team as they were placed on the reserve/opt out list.

Valoaga has spent time with the Lions, Dolphins and 49ers. He was claimed off waivers in December and signed a one-year deal with the Raiders in April.

Killings is a cornerback who spent last year on injured reserve for the Raiders and was re-signed in May.

Read more at the Las Vegas Review-Journal