AJ Cole is excited for his second Pro Bowl appearance Sunday even if he’s not quite sure exactly what he’s supposed to be doing during the game.
“Literally nothing,” the Raiders standout said of the role for punters in the newly reimagined flag football format. “Last year, I had the stat line of the three holds, zero punts and two halftime hot dogs. This year, they completely eliminated the punt with the 40-yard field or something like that. So field position isn’t exactly crucial. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing on game day. I think I’m really just a glorified cheerleader.”
While he might not be utilized in Sunday’s flag games at Allegiant Stadium, he’s on his second consecutive Pro Bowl roster because he’s a weapon on special teams for the Raiders.
Cole was a first-team All-Pro last season and has become one of the NFL’s best punters with a particular affinity for pinning opponents deep while rarely putting the ball in the end zone. He put 26 punts inside the 20-yard line with only one touchback all season.
He was honored to be named to the Pro Bowl team as a replacement for Tommy Townsend, who will be playing for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But while Cole is an advocate for the punting community, he understands the lack of enthusiasm about his position in a showcase like the Pro Bowl.
“They shortened the field and changed the whole game, and frankly it feels a little positionist and discriminatory to what I do,” he said jokingly. “I’m not going to lie about that, but I do understand that when people turn on the Pro Bowl, nobody is out there on third down saying, ‘Come on, let’s hold them, defense. I’d love to see a punt right now in this All-Star game.’ So I’m self aware enough to know that, but it does hurt my feelings just a little bit. I am human.”
That humor has helped make him one of the Raiders’ more popular players, a rarity for a punter.
Cole showed some of his comedic chops during last year’s Pro Bowl when he discussed his hot dog consumption and earning the grass stains on his jersey by holding for extra points.
He has now joked about challenging hot dog eating star Joey Chestnut, though Cole knows his limits.
“Joey Chestnut is an absolute legend of the game,” Cole said. “I watched recently his little intro from the Nathan’s contest, and they called him the “humble consequence of carbon.’ That’s a glowing review of him, but look, he can eat 70 in 10 minutes. The question is, can he put ketchup, mustard and relish and enjoy two hot dogs in five minutes? Because that’s where I shine. The enjoyment factor and the garnishing of the hot dog. So if we play the game on my terms, I probably win. On his terms, he probably wins.”
So Cole will be sticking with football this weekend even if the assignment is unclear.
He did play some tight end at high school in suburban Atlanta and insists he will be ready for anything if called upon by AFC coach Peyton Manning.
“Maybe I’ll talk to Peyton and see if he can put me in for a couple plays at quarterback or maybe I can run a couple routes,” Cole said. “Davante (Adams) said I could sub in for him on one play. So hopefully they throw me a fade, and I can show them what I can do. But I was a high school tight end, so I can maybe get them some rest. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to have as much fun as I possibly can. That’s for sure.”
He also will enjoy getting one more chance to share the field with teammates Maxx Crosby, Josh Jacobs, Derek Carr and Adams.
“Those are four incredible teammates,” Cole said. “I’m very proud of all their work and all their success, so getting to share this with them and kind of enjoy the moment is kind of a great accomplishment to share. Football isn’t an individual sport, but there are individual accolades that go along with it, so to celebrate teammates is very important.”