SARASOTA, Fla. – Raiders players had free time on Monday afternoon, and most scattered through the Sarasota Ritz Carlton hotel and the surrounding town.
Not Marquette King. The Raiders punter found a baby grand piano and started tickling the ivories. He wasn’t practicing chop sticks. The guy can flat play.
“I’m like Nick Cannon,” King said. “I can’t read music, but I can play what I can hear.”
King can flat punt, too.
While he simplifies his duty to catch it and kick it, it’s a bit more complicated than that. King seems to have mastered the art in his fourth season and the Raiders’ full-time punter.
This season could be his best, and that’s saying something. He’s averaging 42.4 net yards per attempt – the highest of his career – and has put 15 of 34 punts inside the 20-yard line. To top off that excellent stat line, he only has three touchbacks.
King had an excellent day against Jacksonville. He averaged 50.6 net yards over five punts and put four inside the 20. He also made one hard to catch. Jacksonville’s Rashad Greene muffed a punt that Andre Holmes recovered, giving the Raiders the short field required to score an easy touchdown.
Oh, and there was something about a 27-yard run off a bad snap, where he earned a first down with surprising speed.
What was King thinking on that crucial run, one that helped put Jacksonville down on Sunday afternoon?
"I just thought that,” King said, “if I ran fast enough, my ratings would go up on Madden.”
That earned some honors. King was named AFC special teams player of the week on Tuesday morning.
King, a master of social media, came up with a term for doing all that: Punthlete.
That’s an accurate term for someone among the first of his kind, a rare athlete who has become a real weapon for a quality Raiders team.
He can do other things, but earns a great living specializing in one thing.
“There ain’t nothing to really talk about,” King said. “You just catch the ball and punt it. There’s technique to it, but…”
King trailed off at that point. He isn’t interested in talking about his craft. The guy knows how to have a good time, whether it’s acting like a mannequin in a Sarasota Gap store, playing drums with a local band or playing soul music without much effort.
King taught himself how to play piano two seasons ago out of boredom on road trips, and learned the trade pretty fast.
“When I see pianos in the lobby, I just wanted to play it,” King said. “Now that I know how to play it, I can just play.
“I need it myself. It’s therapy.”
SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders defense gave up 344 yards Sunday while beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That sum’s a season low, still way too many for Malcolm Smith. The Raiders weakside linebacker has higher standards, even after one of two solid defensive efforts in seven games.
“That’s still a lot of yards,” Smith said. “We’re not where we want to be.”
Just because Sunday was better doesn’t mean it’s good enough. The Raiders defense ranks last in yards allowed and 22nd in scoring defense at 25.6 points per game.
There’s a main reason why the Raiders aren’t dead last in both categories. Takeaways.
The Raiders have plundered the opposition this season 13 times in seven games. Special teams got one Sunday on a muffed punt, but the defense has been incredibly active stealing possession.
Reggie Nelson has a nose for the ball, with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Sean Smith and David Amerson have two picks each and Bruce Irvin leads the league with four forced fumbles.
Turnovers make all those yards allowed easy to stomach, and has kept the Raiders in several close games. The force big mistakes and don’t make many, proven with a plus-eight turnover ratio ranked No. 3 overall.
“It’s given us a chance to win some games, where you could just look at other statistics and say we wouldn’t have a chance.” Smith said. “That’s what the game is about, and us finding ways to compete. Hopefully we stay after it that way.”
The Raiders have stayed after it in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on just 50 percent of opponent trips inside their 20-yard line.
While big plays have brought wins and positivity to the defense, the season’s first half has been difficult for Raiders expecting more.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Smith said. “You come into the year with all these aspirations and things you want to do. When it doesn’t go your way you have to stay after it, keep putting the work in and know it’s not going to be wasted. Hopefully we’re making strides and those improvements will show on Sundays.”
The Raiders believe the defense is close to being good, and has done a solid job masking issues with takeaways and timely production.
“Our team has done a great job of competing to win games,” Smith said. “If we keep doing that, everything will be fine.”