Raiders cut Townsend, giving Cole the punting job — for now

NAPA — The only surprise was the timing as the Raiders waived Johnny Townsend Tuesday, thereby making A.J. Cole the likely starting punter in 2019.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from North Carolina State, had consistently out-kicked Townsend throughout training camp and again in the Raiders’ 14-3 exhibition win over the Rams. After that game, Gruden talked of what he expected to be a competition between the two for the remainder of camp.

The injury report cut that competition short. Backups D.J. Killings (pectoral) and Dylan Mabin (hamstring) left the Raiders short at the position. Makinton Dorleant and Joshua Holsey were signed, while Townsend and cornerback Hamp Cheevers, a Monday waiver claim, were released.

“We had a couple of injuries, so we need to sign some corners,” Gruden said. “To sign some players, you have to let some players go. Hate to see Johnny go. We still think he’s a real good punter. A.J. Cole deserves to be our guy at this point.”

The key words are “at this point.” Cole isn’t about to begin looking ahead to taking the field on Monday night, Sept. 9, when the Raiders open at home against the Denver Broncos.

“Just because I’m the only punter here doesn’t mean I’m the only punter,” Cole said. “There are 20 really good players that don’t have contracts right now and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t think the mentality will ever be really different.”

Townsend was taken in the fifth found last season, No. 173 overall, to replace Marquette King, who was released upon Gruden’s arrival in large part due the size of his contract. Townsend struggled throughout his rookie season with a 43.2 gross average (19th in the NFL) and 38.3 net (30th).

Cole had a stronger leg from the outset, with Gruden comparing a few of his practice punts last week to those of Shane Lechler and King. He also has shown the ability to be reliable holder and is competing with place kicker Daniel Carlson to kick off — something Cole said he hasn’t done since high school.

Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia informed Cole in the morning that Townsend had been released.

“He said it’s your time to go, make sure you get your act together and play the way you’re capable of,” Cole said.

Cole said he thought the competition would last deeper into camp than through the first exhibition game.

Defensive tackle Anthony Rush played well against the Rams. Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

“It kind of caught me off guard, but to me it just meant they believe in what I do, they believe I can be a difference maker in this league,” Cole said. “Now I’ve just got to go out there and don’t have to try and do anything crazy. Just be myself, play within my constraints, do what I’m comfortable with and try and help this team win some games.

More notes and observations after the 12th of 15 practices during the Napa session of training camp:

— Quarterback Derek Carr, Gruden said, will play Thursday night against Arizona.

We expect Derek to play a little bit,” Gruden said.” How long, I don’t know. We like to see some of the starters play a little bit in Arizona.”

That came as news to Carr.

“He never tells us until really like the night before, so we’ll see what he says,” Carr said. “He wants us always preparing as if we are playing, but I’m not sure.”

Best guess on Carr — a series or two at most.

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