Say what you want about the Raiders, but from Ray Guy to Shane Lechler, they’ve had outstanding punters through the years. Marquette King is adding his name to the regal list.
The Raiders’ surprising second-half comeback against the Denver Broncos last week was due in large part to their ability to control field position. King was at the center of it all.
On his busiest day of the season, when he was forced to punt 10 times, King helped tilt the game in the Raiders’ favor by landing five inside the Broncos 20-yard line. In doing so, the 27-year-old tied a franchise record and put the Raiders in prime position to pull off the upset.
For a guy known strictly for his power when he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent four years ago, it also represented a monumental step in King’s development.
“It shows his ability to really put the ball in areas that are very difficult,” Raiders defensive back TJ Carrie said. “That was very beneficial to us because we were allowed to sit back in coverage and allow our front four or front five to go and rush the quarterback.”
King’s punting, combined with the Raiders’ best game of the season on defense, helped keep the Broncos’ offense from getting into the end zone in a game the Raiders won 15-12.
Denver went three-and-out on two series that began inside its own 20. A third ended in a safety when quarterback Brock Osweiler fumbled in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders also muffed a punt at the 15-yard line early in the fourth quarter, and the Raiders converted it into a go-ahead touchdown.
“Field position is so big in a defensive struggle like that,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “Really good on (King’s) part, and the protection and the gunners getting down there and getting those balls covered properly. Whether you’re winning the turnover battle and winning some of that hidden yardage, those are factors to winning football.”
King’s improvement is apparent in the numbers alone. In 2013, he landed 23 punts inside the 20 and had 11 touchbacks. In the 29 games since, King has dropped 62 inside the 20 to go with only seven touchbacks.
Just don’t expect him to talk about it much.
King is the Raiders’ reluctant star, a player who feels infinitely more comfortable decked out in full camouflage than he does standing in front of a throng of reporters and television cameras.
He declined to talk about his day after the Broncos game and twice turned down interview requests this week before sauntering back into the locker room.
“I feel like I perform well every game so I don’t really have a dream game,” King said when asked about his performance against the Broncos. “I don’t know, I just perform. I take it one punt at a time.”
The directional punting has taken its toll on King’s overall numbers. His 43.9-yard gross average is the lowest of his career, but the 40.3-yard net is King’s best.
King is quick to credit former Raiders special teams coach Steve Hoffman, now with Tennessee, and current position coach Brad Seely for his improvements.
It was Hoffman who first suggested King try kicking into a garbage can downfield to improve his accuracy. Seely continued that practice and added his own twist by having King field tennis balls shot out of a pitching machine to help his handwork.
“Seely’s one of those coaches, he’s so critical, he looks at all the little stuff,” King said. “I think that helped me sharpen up my accuracy. I can always get better. It’s a process. I’m going to get better and better as the years go on.”
King will have to make at least one more adjustment before the season is over.
The Raiders placed long snapper Jon Condo on injured reserve after he hurt his right shoulder recovering the muffed punt by Denver. Oakland signed Thomas Gafford on Tuesday and will likely start him this week against Green Bay. Gafford spent 11 games with Chicago this season.
NOTES: The Raiders’ entire offensive line walked in after practice and found new 55-inch televisions in front of their lockers. They were a gift from quarterback Derek Carr.