Boost from Bojo: Packers pleased with new punter

Week 1 acquisition brings directional skill, variety to field-position game

P Corey Bojorquez

GREEN BAY – There are two primary instances in which the spotlight is on a punter to really help his team.

When he has a chance to pin the opponent deep in its own territory, and when he must punt from the back of his own end zone.

Packers punter Corey Bojorquezcame up big in both of those situations this past Sunday vs. the Steelers, continuing a strong start for the new arrival known to his teammates by the nickname "Bojo" who has provided a noticeable boost to Green Bay's special teams.

"He's given us exactly what we're asking for," special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton said last week.

When the Packers' first offensive possession stalled at the Pittsburgh 40-yard line, the left-footed Bojorquez summoned his banana punt and the coverage team downed it at the 4, leading to a three-and-out.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur said it "ate at" him to punt from across the 50, but Bojorquez "made us right" with a specialty kick.

What's a banana punt? It's when the punter changes the traditional orientation of the football and turns it sideways as he drops it, pooching the ball with a horizontal end-over-end rotation. The idea is to get a softer landing on a short punt that prevents the ball from scooting into the end zone. Better yet, it'll bounce sideways and make it easier for the coverage team to down it.

It's a technique Bojorquez learned this summer from veteran punter Johnny Hekker of the Rams, when Bojorquez, after not being re-signed by Buffalo, was in LA competing with the All-Pro for a job.

That didn't work out in his favor, but it turned into the Packers' gain when General Manager Brian Gutekunst swapped late-round 2023 draft picks with the Rams to acquire Bojorquez rather than risk him getting claimed off waivers by another team higher in the claim order.

But the Packers didn't bring in Bojorquez just for his trick punts. They also wanted his big leg, which he showed off in the fourth quarter Sunday.

With the ball on the 6-yard line and Bojorquez lined up well into the end zone, he boomed a 57-yarder that was fair caught – thanks to solid work by gunner Malik Taylor – at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line.

Instead of starting around midfield or better, which is where an offense expects to be after a defensive stop inside the 10, the Steelers drove barely across midfield before turning the ball over on downs. Chalk up another win in the field-position battle.

"Our goal as an offense, a bare minimum when you are backed up is two first downs," LaFleur said. "We didn't accomplish that, but again, he bailed us out."

In the season's first three games, Bojorquez had already proven to be an upgrade over the Packers' previous punter, JK Scott, with his skill at directional punting.

Multiple times in September, Bojorquez's punts were angled effectively near the sideline or out of bounds, limiting the opponents' returns. The results thus far have Bojorquez with a 47.5-yard gross average and 42.9 net, which currently ranks eighth in the league.

"That was part of our vision to be a really, really good directional punt unit," Drayton said. "A punter can take a returner out of it."

Bojorquez is far from satisfied, though. Even with his effective directional skills, the Packers allowed one punt return of between 10 and 14 yards in each of the first three games this season.

Those are the yards he'd like to eliminate, either by getting his punts to land just out of bounds without sacrificing too much distance, or by getting more hang time to allow the coverage unit to close more ground.

"I've always kind of been the big-ball punter, which is great, but if you're hitting it 65 yards and they're returning it 20, it's kind of pointless, in my opinion," Bojorquez said. "So I think just maturing as a punter, realizing if I can hit a 60-yard punt to the sideline, great, but I would almost (rather) have a 50-yard to the sideline."

One punter other than Hekker he has studied is Tennessee's Brett Kern, a 14-year veteran and master at dropping punts just out of bounds. During his three years in Buffalo (2018-20), Bojorquez said returner Andre Roberts used to get frustrated every time the Bills faced the Titans because Kern rendered him a non-factor.

"That's when I started thinking that's what I want to do, I want to (tick) off that returner and just not let him do anything today," Bojorquez said. "Just kind of ruin his day."

Judging by the early returns, misery awaits the opposition, and nothing would make Bojorquez or his special teams coach happier.

"He can be a one-man show if we protect for him," Drayton said. "And that's in essence what we're striving for."

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