This is the ninth part of a series looking at 10 questions facing the Bills entering training camp, which begins Thursday. Today's question: Who will win out at punter?
In 2018, punting was a problem for the Buffalo Bills. A big problem.
Between poor performance and poor health, the Bills never managed to fix one of the major flaws in a special teams unit filled with them. The Bills were 31st in the league with an average net of 39.2 yards per punt.
They used three punters last season. After the final game, there was no clear choice of who would have the job in 2019.
There still isn't.
For now, the Bills have two candidates, both of whom were with the club a year ago but only one of whom actually saw action.
Corey Bojorquez, a rookie claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots just before the start of the season, handled the job for the first eight games before winding up on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Colton Schmidt, who was released in favor of Bojorquez, returned for three games before Matt Darr replaced him for the final five.
Cory Carter, who the Bills signed to their practice squad from the Houston Texans in 2017, spent all of last season on injured reserve. He suffered a torn ACL suffered from taking a hit after a punt in the second game of the preseason.
"They’ve both done a good job with their rehabs," new Bills special teams coordinator Heath Farwell said of Bojorquez and Carter while speaking with reporters during offseason workouts. "They’ve worked their butts off all off season to get back and both get to full strength, and they both are doing a really good job. I am happy with where their progress is, but we are long ways to go from making a decision."
Bojorquez figures to have the edge, if for no other reason than the Bills believed in him enough to make the waiver claim and send Schmidt, who had been their punter the previous four seasons, packing.
But Bojorquez isn't taking anything for granted.
"You could have a job Week One and then get cut after the game," he told The Buffalo News. "You’ve always got to treat it as it could be your last day playing. You don’t know. So that’s how I’m kind of taking this. We’ve got two guys competing, but at the end of the day, we’re both just trying to do the best that we can individually.
"So we help each other out all the time. It’s more of I see him as like a training partner rather than someone I’m competing against.”
Last season, Bojorquez punted 45 times for 2,028 yards, averaging 45.1 yards per punt. He placed 22 punts inside the 20-yard line.
In his NFL debut, during the Bills' Sept. 9 season-opening loss at Baltimore, Bojorquez had four punts of more than 50 yards. That was the most by a Bill punter in his first game.
Another highlight was when he placed five of the six punts he attempted in the Bills' Sept. 23 victory against the Minnesota Vikings inside the 20.
“I wasn't happy with where I was at with my punting," Bojorquez said. "I thought it was decent enough, we were doing OK, but definitely needs an improvement. Now to kind of look back at it, you just see what the highs and lows were and just finding ways to always bounce back when you have those lows. You’re not going to punt every ball perfectly. You’re going to have those ones that you wish you had back.
"The important thing with that is just kind of how you’re going to approach the next one and kind of come back from it. So that’s what I’m trying to do this year, kind of come back from how last season ended and just kind of make it better than what it was.”
Although Bojorquez was placed on IR on Oct. 31, he suffered his season-ending torn labrum during the Oct. 7 victory against the Tennessee Titans on what was remembered as one of the lowest of lowlights from the Bills' 6-10 finish. Thanks to what he called "a little misunderstanding of what was supposed to happen," he became an unfortunate footnote of a botched field-goal attempt that resulted in his shoulder "popping out" as he was tackled.
Bojorquez played through the pain for the next three games before finally undergoing arthroscopic surgery.
"When it happened, I just thought, 'I don’t know if this is my last game or not.’ I didn’t know what was going on in there. It just hurt," he said. "I thought, ‘Just get through the game, come in tomorrow, kind of get it figured out.’ I thought at first I wasn’t going to be able to finish out the season. I’d play three more games after, but it kind of came down to the point of like, ‘Look, surgery’s going to have to happen either way. So it’s either you can wait till the end of season and then do five, six months of rehab or do it now and be ready for when offseason starts.' ”
Bojorquez said he spent the offseason doing "some preventative stuff" and working on adding strength to his shoulder. "It's something you always want to stay on top of like with any injury," he said. "But other than that, everything's back to normal."
Farwell spent time with Bojorquez during the offseason reviewing video of his punts last season. They looked at the good ones, as well as the ones that weren't so good.
"We'll kind of talk about it like, 'What did you feel on this punt versus this one? How did you like the drop? Your steps?' " Bojorquez said. "We'll just kind of dissect it."
What will it take to win the competition?
"Be as consistent as you can," Bojorquez said. "That's what's going to keep your job."