NAPA — 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.
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. Lechler signed with the Texans after not receiving an offer from the Raiders.
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 Minnesota.
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.”
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.
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 today. Watson has practiced just once this preseason because of a lingering calf injury.