Corey Bojorquez had an up-and-down training camp and then hit some poor balls during preseason games.
The Buffalo Bills’ punting situation was a worry entering the season opener.
All of a sudden, Bojorquez turned it around. His first 10 full-field punts of the season all had hang times of 4.7 seconds or better (a 4.5-second hang time is good).
“Those preseason games I was having a hard time figuring some stuff out,” Bojorquez said.
A meeting with assistant special teams coach Matthew Smiley ensued.
“I took some time with Smiley between the fourth preseason game and the first game to work through some things,” Bojorquez said. “I got it figured out. ... It was technique. I was kind of pulling my hip through a little too much. I was going across my body. So I focused on keeping the swing straight.”
The Bills showed faith in the 23-year-old Bojorquez, and he paid them back with a solid first full season as the team’s punter.
Just 22.8% of Bojorquez’s punts were returned (18 of 79), the best rate in the league. He forced 26 fair catches, tied for second best.
Those are more important statistics than gross average or net average. Bojorquez ranked only 30th in both of those categories, at 41.9 and 37.7 yards, respectively.
Every time an opponent is forced into a fair catch, that’s one less opportunity to make a big play and tilt field position. The Bills allowed only five returns of 10 or more yards. One was a 60-yard return against the Giants. Bojorquez hit a great ball (63 yards and a 5.1 hang time) but outkicked the coverage down the middle of the field. The other 10-plus returns went for 20, 13, 10 and 10 yards.
That’s minimal damage.
In 2018, the Bills gave up 10 returns of 10-plus yards (five were 20-plus returns). In 2017 they gave up nine 10-plus returns, and in 2016 it was 13.
“I’d rather have consistent 45-yard fair catch than 55-plus yard kick and then next thing you know they’re returning it 40 yards on you,” Bojorquez said. The numbers only tell so much. My net’s not anything great. But if you’re top three on punts inside the 20 you’re doing your job.”
“Ray Guy said it’s not how far you can kick it, it’s how effective you kick it,” he said, referring to the lone punter in the Hall of Fame.
Bojorquez put a team-record 34 punts inside the opposition 20, breaking the mark of 33 held by John Kidd (1985) and Brian Moorman (2006). The total of 34 tied for third in the NFL.
“There’s definitely some things I want to improve on but overall it wasn’t too bad,” Bojorquez said.
Bojorquez got a game ball in the win at Miami, where he had five punts for a 43.6-yard average and none were returned.
He was pretty good when backed up in his own end, too. He hit a 5.0-hang time, 58-yarder into the wind early vs. the Eagles and 5.3 punt into the wind in the first quarter against Baltimore.
“One punt of his that comes to mind is the first punt against Philly,” said long snapper Reid Ferguson. “It was a super windy game, it was probably 30-plus mph into his face, and he drills one 60 yards into the wind. That speaks to how far he’s come and the work he puts in. He watches a ton of film, does a ton of drills, he’s taking care of his body, he’s got his routine down. I think he’s becoming more of a professional in that aspect and he’s seeing it come to fruition on Sundays.”
Bojorquez’s mis-hits included a 21-yarder with the Bills down at home to New England, 13-10, a 15-yarder in the wind vs. Washington and a 29-yarder with the Bills down to the Ravens, 17-9, in the fourth quarter.
The wind was a big factor this season.
“I only played three games here last year and none of them were windy,” Bojorquez said. “This year I’d say six of the eight were windy.”
Another key duty for Bojorquez is holding on place-kicks for Stephen Hauschka. That operation went smoothly.
“Being able to spend the whole offseason spring and training camp and then having him get that game experience this season, he’s done well this season,” Ferguson said of the holding. “It’s clear how far he’s come since last season, especially on the holding aspect. Obviously, that’s really important for Stephen. A lot of intricacies go into that, for Stephen especially, because he’s probably one of the more picky guys just about the tilt of the ball and the spot.”
Ferguson’s consistency helps the holder, too.
“Going with Bojo for the full season and offseason we’ve gotten a lot of reps between myself, Bojo and Stephen as a full operation,” Ferguson said. “Being able to hit perfect laces as much as we’ve hit them this year, it’s been good.”