AJ Cole understands what it means to be the Raiders punter.
Cole, in his second year with the Silver and Black after signing as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State, knew from the beginning the legacy of Hall of Famer Ray Guy, Shane Lechler, who figures to have his place in Canton someday, and Marquette King.
All three Raiders legends punted for high miles.
“There might be certain teams that don’t really care too much about the punter, but I feel that there’s a lot of fans out there that really are informed, and really care about the punter position because the Raiders have had the best in history at the position,” said Cole, who received All-American honorable mention at N.C. State, where he averaged 42.2 yards-per-punt over four seasons.
“I’m just excited to have the opportunity to represent this organization week in and week out. … I take pride in being the last (punter) for the Oakland Raiders and the first (punter) for the Las Vegas Raiders.”
And Cole has done that very well over his first 21 games with the Raiders, averaging 46.0 yards per punt on 67 kicks last season, with a net of 39.5, a long of 74 yards, and 33 punts that pinned to the opposition inside the 20-yard-line.
In five games this season, he is averaging 45.8 yards, with a net of 38.7, a long of 59 and while he has deposited only two inside the 20, just five of his punts have been returned.
Of course, the Raiders have needed him to punt only 11 times in those five games.
“I don’t get stale waiting on the sidelines, I’m just doing to same things to get ready to punt every time we have the ball,” said the 6-4, 220-pound Cole. “I’m happy when our offense moves the ball, puts points on the board, and wins football games.
“If I don’t have to punt, I just get ready to hold (for kicker Daniel Carlson). We’ve been great on that side of the ball, but I just stay ready just in case I have to punt.”
After playing in front of the raucous fans in the Oakland Coliseum and other stadiums around the NFL as a rookie, Cole admits that it’s strange this season playing in front of no fans because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Allegiant Stadium, which seats 65,000 fans will be empty again this week when the Raiders face Tom Brady and the Tampa Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing not to have fans in the stands during these crazy times,” Cole said. “But the fans in Las Vegas have been great and I can feel a lot of energy for the Raiders in the grocery stores and when I am in other places around town. You can feel a little buzz among the fans.
“We feel excited to represent Las Vegas, there’s a lot of excitement here, and we know the fans are rooting us on Sunday.”
Cole was a longshot to make the Raiders as a rookie because the incumbent punter was Johnny Townsend, who was a fifth-round draft choice (No. 173 overall) out of Florida in 2018 and averaged a very respectable 43.2 yards per punt as a rookie, including a 64-yarder.
However, Coach Jon Gruden apparently saw what was coming.
“I think Townsend has got his hands full with AJ Cole,” Gruden said early in 2019 training camp. “We haven’t seen kicks like that since Shane Lechler was here or Marquette King.”
The fans in Las Vegas have to settle for watching it on TV for now, but someday they will be able to see Cole kick in Allegiant Stadium.
Perhaps Cole will thrill them the way Guy did the spectators in the Louisiana Superdome when he hit a video screen, 90 feet above the field, with one if his towering punts in 1976 during the Pro Bowl.
Until then, Cole will simply get off his booming punts in relative silence.
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