NAPA, Calif. — A.J. Cole was caught off guard.
The rookie punter met Tuesday with Raiders special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia inside the Napa Valley Marriott. Bisaccia asked Cole if he had spoken that morning to Johnny Townsend, the second-year veteran against whom Cole has competed for months. Cole hadn’t.
Bisaccia shared the news.
“To me, it just meant that they believe in what I can do,” Cole said Tuesday afternoon. “They believe I can be a difference maker in this league. Now, I’ve just got to go out there. I don’t have to try to do anything crazy. I just have to be myself.”
The Raiders have committed to their punter for the season. It’s Cole, an undrafted rookie from North Carolina State who reported to rookie minicamp in May without a contract. Two punters were on the 90-man roster at the time. Now, they’re gone, and he stands alone.
A 2018 fifth-round pick, Townsend averaged 38.3 net yards per punt as a rookie, ranking 30th in the NFL. He was highly regarded entering the league for his directional punt ability and holding, but his inconsistency in the former opened the door for an offseason competition.
Drew Kaser initially was signed to offer a push. The Raiders cut him in May after Cole impressed during rookie minicamp. When Cole strung together performances in training camp and demonstrated a stronger leg, they followed suit with Townsend.
The team also shored up its cornerback position Tuesday. Two rookies, D.J. Killings and Dylan Mabin, exited Saturday’s exhibition against the Los Angeles Rams. Killings tore a pectoral muscle and will miss the remainder of the season. Mabin suffered a hamstring ailment.
Oakland signed cornerback Joshua Holsey and defensive back Makinton Dorleant. Townsend and cornerback Hamp Cheevers were waived in corresponding moves.
“To sign some players, you have to let some players go,” coach Jon Gruden said. “Hate to see Johnny go. We still think he’s a really good punter. A.J. Cole deserves to be our guy at this point.”
— More of the Raiders’ starters, including quarterback Derek Carr, will play in Thursday’s exhibition against the Arizona Cardinals, Gruden said.
— Defensive end Maxx Crosby, a rookie fourth-round pick, underwent surgery this week to repair a fractured hand. He won’t play Thursday but could next week against the Green Bay Packers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
— Fullback Keith Smith (knee) participated Tuesday in his first practice of training camp after undergoing meniscus surgery in late July. He will compete for a roster spot with undrafted rookie fullback Alec Ingold.
— The Raiders are scouring the waiver wire and have begun contacting other NFL clubs to gauge which guards will become available as the Aug. 31 roster cutdown approaches, a person familiar with the situation said. The team is open to a trade before then, which would allow it to circumvent the waiver system when addressing a position of need.