Raiders still not settled on starting punter

For the first time in more than a decade, the Raiders head into

the final stages of training camp uncertain who their punter will

be.

When seven-time Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler bolted for Houston

as a free agent in March, it created a huge void on Oakland’s

roster. With less than three weeks remaining before the season

opener in Indianapolis, the Raiders aren’t any closer to filling

it.

Marquette King, whose booming kicks have made him a fan favorite

at training camp, and quirky but consistent veteran Chris Kluwe

have gone back and forth throughout the preseason with neither able

to gain the upper hand.

The two alternated halves in Oakland’s first two preseason games

and will likely share time again Friday when the Raiders host the

Chicago Bears.

”We’ve got two guys that are NFL-caliber punters,” Oakland

coach Dennis Allen said Tuesday. ”Any time you’re in that

situation, that’s a good problem to have.”

It’s a problem the franchise hasn’t had to deal with since 2000,

when the Raiders drafted Lechler in the fifth round. Over the next

13 years, Lechler broke nearly every team punting record, and he’s

still the NFL career leader with a 47.5-yard gross average.

Lechler signed with the Texans after not receiving an offer from

the Raiders. General manager Reggie McKenzie, who has spent the

last two years slashing millions from Oakland’s bloated payroll,

figured it would be too costly to re-sign Lechler and let the

veteran walk.

King, who spent all of 2012 on the Raiders injured reserve list,

was the logical choice to replace Lechler, but Oakland signed Kluwe

in May shortly after he was cut by the Vikings following an

eight-year stint in Minnesota.

The two men have engaged in a friendly but spirited competition

since camp began. They frequently talk and share tips. Mostly it’s

been the 31-year-old Kluwe serving as a mentor to his younger

teammate.

”You can’t look at it like I’m here in this spot competing for

this job. You have to look at it like I’m competing for one of 32

jobs in the NFL,” Kluwe said. ”Because you could beat out the guy

at your spot on your team but if neither of you is punting better

than a guy on some other team (who is let go), they’re going to cut

both of you and bring in that other guy. That’s how I started in

this league. Minnesota claimed me off waivers.”

Statistically, there hasn’t been much difference between the two

punters.

Both punted four times in the first two preseason games. King,

the more powerful of the two, has a 55.5-yard average with a

49.0-yard net. Kluwe, who holds every significant Vikings punting

record, is averaging 46.0 yards with a 37.5 net.

”I’m not competing against anybody but myself,” said King, who

went undrafted out of Division II Fort Valley State in 2012. ”True

enough, it’s a competition (with Kluwe), but I’m competing against

myself and I’m pretty sure he’s competing against himself.”

King is the more outgoing of the two punters, smiling and

laughing his way through practice and interviews.

He politely thanks reporters for their questions, and after one

recent meeting with the media, the 24-year-old asked a Raiders

public relations intern if his answers were good enough.

Kluwe is a bit more colorful.

A very outspoken supporter of gay rights, Kluwe wrote an open

letter to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. in 2012 after Burns

had written to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti urging him to

keep his team from making comments in support of same sex

marriages.

Kluwe’s letter went viral on the Internet and he became an

instant celebrity on the talk show circuit. He made an appearance

on the Conan O’Brien show in June to talk about the letters and his

views on subjects such as politics and the art of swearing.

Early in camp, Kluwe wore Google Glass to give fans a player’s

perspective of practice. He’s also a huge fan of the online game

Warcraft and regularly tweets about playing it.

Like King, Kluwe downplayed talk of a rivalry between the

two.

”For me it’s always been that I’m going to go out and do the

best that I can,” Kluwe said. ”That’s all I know how to do. And

really, that’s what coaches and player personnel guys are looking

for. They’re looking for somebody who isn’t counting bodies next to

them, they’re going out to compete.”

NOTES: DT Pat Sims made it through his first full practice after

missing nearly all of camp with an undisclosed injury. … LB Kevin

Burnett also returned to the field. … WRs Brice Butler and

Travonte Sessions were hurt in practice and did not finish. …

Allen said he expects to have second-round pick Menelik Watson back

on the field Wednesday. Watson, the 42nd overall pick in the draft,

has practiced just once this preseason because of a calf injury he

sustained in July. … The Raiders will hold their final practice

of camp on Wednesday.