ALAMEDA — Giorgio Tavecchio refers to Johnny Townsend as “Captain America.”
“Nice kid, good-looking dude, can do a little bit of everything,” the Raiders’ kicker said Wednesday.
“I don’t know if I can identify with Captain America, but I’ll take the compliment from Giorgio,” Townsend later said with a smile.
Townsend has been thrust into what some might view as an awkward situation. He’s not only the Raiders’ new punter, but the holder for a kicking competition between Tavecchio and Eddy Piñeiro, Townsend’s close friend and teammate at Florida. On top of trying to stay neutral while the kickers battle, Townsend has been tasked with holding for both a right-footer and a lefty, which may be more difficult than it sounds.
He’s handled it all in stride, and the Raiders think they found something in their 2018 fifth-round pick, both as a holder and punter.
“He’s big, physical guy … really athletic,” special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia said. “We feel like there’s a lot of natural ability there that certainly we’re willing to work with.”
Townsend’s 46.2 yards per punt average ranks first in SEC history, so he might just fit the bill of Marquette King’s replacement. King ranked sixth in the league last season with 47.4 yards per punt, but the Raiders released him earlier this offseason and he signed with the division rival Broncos.
Townsend’s offseason highlight may have come Tuesday, when he boomed a punt from the 30-yard line that bounced out of bounds inside the 1-yard line on the opposite end. Bisaccia has spoken highly of Townsend’s directional punting since it factors significantly in his scheme, and the rookie explained how he’s cultivated the skill.
“My special teams coaches at Florida put so much emphasis on it. We have so many scary returners at the SEC level. We had to find ways to shrink the field, get the ball to the sidelines, limit the opportunities for returners,” Townsend said. “That was something I worked on day-in and day-out. I knew the pressure of the situations I was going to be in and how much of a role I could have with the team if I could do that, by limiting the returns of the opponents. As my career went on, I developed in that way. I want to take my game in the NFL the same way I did in college.”
Jon Gruden has stressed the need for a sound holder on special teams as much as anything, and Bisaccia was worried Townsend might struggle holding for both a righty and lefty. The special teams coach credited Townsend’s quick learning in that regard to his background as a baseball catcher since the squatting positions look alike and hand-eye coordination is involved in both, a notion Townsend agreed with.
“Johnny has been outstanding holding for both. I’ve never really had that before. I haven’t had a lefty and a righty before in a camp, so he’s been outstanding,” Bisaccia said. ” … He’s got over 400 reps just since he’s been here on holding for both. I can’t explain it. I thought it would be a big issue with it, but it’s been an easy transition for him.”
Gruden means it when he says he wants competition at every position, but the only one on the roster without at least a two-man depth chart is punter. Townsend will be Oakland’s guy, and he’s well aware of the names he follows.
“Some of the best punters in NFL history have come through here. Ray Guy, Shane Lechler. There are some big shoes to fill,” Townsend said. “I’m going to play my role this year, coming in as a rookie and try to have the biggest impact that I possibly can.”
Ryan Switzer could be multi-dimensional threat for Raiders
Switzer’s Twitter bio features the hashtag #SwitzArmyKnife, and the Raiders hope he can be a threat in multiple facets for them.
Oakland acquired the slot receiver and return specialist from the Cowboys in a trade for Jihad Ward on Day 3 of the draft, somewhat a surprise given Ward’s severe lack of production since the Raiders took him in the second round in 2016.
Switzer has been returning punts in practice along with Dwayne Harris – Griff Whalen and Leon Hall got some reps there on Tuesday – and his familiarity with Bisaccia from their days together in Dallas has eased the transition to Oakland’s special teams unit. On offense, the 2017 fourth-rounder hopes to carve out a role in Gruden’s complex system as a sparkplug for Derek Carr on inside routes.
“He’s had some snaps, but he knows he’s in a competition both at receiver and the return game,” Bisaccia said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
“I’m ecstatic to be here, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I think you look at the great slot receivers in this league and all of them have got great outside guys around you,” Switzer said. “That’s what makes the middle of the field so deadly, is when you’ve got outside receivers who can put pressure, not only on corners but safeties. That leaves me to deal with nickels and linebackers.”
Notable names miss Day 2
Cornerback Gareon Conley missed Wednesday’s practice for an undisclosed reason, and safety Marcus Gilchrist (calf) also sat out Day 2 of mini-camp.
Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (knee) and cornerback Nick Nelson (meniscus) worked in the distance with a trainer on agility drills, and left tackle Donald Penn (foot) worked with strength coach Tom Shaw on the side during some team drills. Cornerback Shareece Wright also missed Wednesday’s session.
Defensive end Khalil Mack also didn’t show for the second straight day of mandatory workouts as he awaits a contract extension.
Source: East Bay Get to know Johnny Townsend, Raiders’ replacement for Marquette King