Johnny Hekker’s job could be in jeopardy with the rise of Corey Bojorquez
The game, and the mile-high conditions, offered Corey Bojorquez an ideal opportunity.
Locked in the Rams’ most high-profile position battle, Bojorquez went into Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos with a chance to perhaps wrest the starting punter job from veteran Johnny Hekker.
“Elevation is something I rather enjoy,” Bojorquez said.
Early in the Rams’ 17-12 defeat, the offense didn’t help Bojorquez’s cause. His first kick traveled only 39 yards before quarterback Bryce Perkins began consistently moving the Rams against the Broncos’ first-team defense.
But late in the second quarter, Bojorquez made his case.
The Rams’ preseason finale at the Denver Broncos could determine who wins jobs on the defensive line for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Chicago Bears.
Lined up in the end zone, he boomed a kick 67 yards, wowing the crowd at Empower Field at Mile High. Near the end of the first half, his 48-yard punt was downed at the one-yard line. And late in the third quarter, a 70-yard punt went out of bounds at the one.
Whether that was enough to convince Rams coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead to keep Bojorquez instead of Hekker will play out in the next few days as the Rams trim their roster to 53 players by Tuesday’s deadline.
“It is very clear that you have two starting punters on our roster — and it’s that positive thing for us,” McVay said. “And so we’ll see what that looks like as we move forward.”
Hekker, a four-time All-Pro and the NFL’s highest-paid punter, remains sidelined on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis and receivers coach Eric Yarber also did not make the trip to Denver because of COVID-19 issues, McVay said.
McVay said the Rams would not rule out exploring trades involving one of the punters. He indicated that there could be complications releasing a player on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Hekker, 31, did not play in the final two preseason games but he does not have anything to prove.
The Rams know the resume of their longest-tenured player, and McVay and Snead said this week that a decision had not been made. But comments from both indicated Hekker is not a lock to return for a 10th season.
When speaking about Hekker, Snead acknowledged, “What he’s brought to the table is on the table,” but otherwise stopped short of saying the Rams would bring back a player who carries a salary-cap number of $4.9 million, according to overthecap.com.
“If we decided to move from someone like Johnny Hekker, that’s done what he’s done for the Rams, that’s not just kind of ‘Yes, no decision.’ There’s a lot of discussion into that.
“So, no way is that one made at all.”
McVay echoed Snead.
Rams new running back Sony Michel was surprised by the trade, and now it’s a matter of learning the playbook before the Sept. 12 opener against Chicago.
“Everybody knows what Johnny’s meant to this team, to me, really to our organization, and this goes a long [way] back before I even got here,” McVay said. “But Corey has come in and he’s done a nice job. We’re going to continue to evaluate that.
“There’s obviously a lot of complications that have kind of added to that situation just based on COVID and things of that nature that even convolute it a little bit more.”
Bojorquez, 24, played at Lakewood Mayfair High, Cerritos College and New Mexico. He signed with the Rams in April after playing three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Last season, he led the league in punting distance, averaging 50.8 yards.
And he made a strong case Saturday to possibly displace Hekker, whom he described as “one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met.”
Bojorquez said he signed with the Rams to learn from Hekker, who tutored him on the directional “banana punt” that was downed at the one-yard line.
“Never tried before in a game in my life,” Bojorquez said, “and that’s something he kind of worked with me on. So thanks to him for helping me kind of get confidence in that.”
Bojorquez said he was not concerned about the Rams’ decision because it was not his to make.
“It’s been a fun ride,” he said. “Like I just kind of go with the flow…. Whatever happens happens.”
Bojorquez was one of several Rams players who took advantage of their final preseason opportunity.
Perkins, who nearly engineered a last-minute victory against the Las Vegas Raiders last week, took every snap and directed two drives for field goals against a Broncos defense that featured star linebacker Von Miller and other starters for much of the first half.
Perkins completed 10 of 15 passes for 62 yards in the first half against the Broncos starters. He finished 23 for 42 for 201 yards. He also rushed for 50 yards in nine carries.
With Matthew Stafford and John Wolford on the roster, Perkins will be on the practice squad — unless the Rams believe they must put him on the roster to prevent another team from claiming him.
“Whatever happens in these next few days, I know that I’m a better player because these guys gave me a shot,” Perkins said, adding, “We’ll see what happens, and we’ll handle it accordingly.”
With defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson expected to be sidelined a few weeks after knee surgery, defensive linemen also had an opportunity to make their case for spots on the roster or practice squad.
Late in the second quarter, lineman Michael Hoecht sacked Drew Lock and forced and recovered a fumble to set up Matt Gay’s third field goal.
Xavier Jones rushed for 44 yards in 13 carries.
Receiver Tutu Atwell caught eight passes for 62 yards.
Tight end Brycen Hopkins, a fourth-round draft pick in 2020, caught two passes, including one for first down.
Cornerbacks JuJu Hughes and Dont’e Deayon broke up passes by Broncos starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Jeremiah Haydel returned a kickoff 40 yards.
Newly acquired running back Sony Michel made the trip but he did not participate in the game. Michel went through pregame drills with other Rams starters.
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