Oakland Raiders offseason position review: specialists

 

In 2013, the Oakland Raiders lost longtime punter Shane Lechler to free agency. To replace him, Oakland had second year punter Marquette King and signed veteran Chris Kluwe. After a tough training camp battle, King’s stronger leg beat out Kluwe’s veteran savvy.

King ended up leading the NFL in gross punting average his first year as a starter, as well as setting the NFL career record for gross punting. He was a bright spot for a team replacing a nine time All-Pro selection.

However, King was not without his struggles. Taking over holding duties as well, King put himself to blame for kicker Sebastian Janikowski’s nine misses on field goals. While Seabass and Head Coach Dennis Allen did not put the blame on King, it is understandable that a  new holder can present problems for a kicker.

The one way to properly fix the issue is time. Lechler and Janikowski did not work in unison immediately when they came onto the team. King has a whole offseason to work on getting holds right with Janikowski and long snapper, Jon Condo.

King also had two punts blocked and one returned for a touchdown. Both the blocks were failures by the punt coverage team not picking up a rusher. The touchdown was slightly King’s fault as he outkicked his coverage team. But the main problem was that the coverage team lost contain and tackled poorly.

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King’s blocked punt against the Giants was a result of the upback leaving too early and not picking up Damontre Moore

Janikowski had another good year. Although he was the team’s leading scorer again, he had significantly less points than year’s past. This can be attribute to the Raiders offense finally starting to score touchdowns, relegating SeaBass to extra points.

Condo had a decent year. He stayed off the radar and did not mess up any snaps. Long snapper is a position where the less you hear about it, hes doing a good job. Condo is a two-time Pro Bowler and does a consistent job every year.

Outside of the three primary specialists, the Raiders special teams was decent. Usama Young, Taiwan Jones, and Rashad Jennings became quality coverage guys. They were the best in the NFL in opponents punting distance with 41.7 yards. They also were tied for third best in opponent kickoff return average.

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Jacoby Ford has has return success, but likely won’t return to the team.

Oakland Raiders

Oakland did have success with it’s coverage units, such as Greg Jenkin’s fumble return against Dallas

 

However, there were some low points. The punt coverage teams allowed the sixth most yards to be returned by opponents on punts. They ranked 21st in punt return average with 8.2 yards, and 22nd in kickoff return average with 22.2 yards.

Jacoby Ford was benched in favor of Taiwan Jones, despite having four career kick-return touchdowns. Ford is a free agent and might not return to the Silver and Black. Oakland needs to look for some new return talent through the late draft or free agency. Jones has speed, but not ball-running skills, which is why he changed to cornerback from running back.

Oakland Raiders

Taiwan Jones struggled in returns in 2013

In all, 2013 was a middle-of-the-road type year for the Raiders’ special teams. Special Teams coach Bobby April can spend the offseason tinkering with what he has available, and if he can get a talented return man to complement his outstanding specialists and productive coverage teams, the Raiders can improve at least one phase of their team.