After one last awesome audition to be the Rams’ punter, Corey Bojorquez might have his big left foot in the door.
Bojorquez made punts the most memorable plays of the Rams’ 17-12 loss to the Broncos in the preseason finale Saturday night, beginning when he blasted a ball 80 yards through the light air in Denver for what went officially as a 67-yard kick.
One series after that, the Bellflower native from Mayfair High in Lakewood and Cerritos College in Norwalk finessed a 48-yard punt to the Broncos’ 1-yard line, where it was downed by the Rams.
Later, Bojorquez combined power and touch, spinning a 70-yard punt that bounced over the left sideline at the Broncos’ 1.
Did the 55.4-yard-a-punt performance win Bojorquez the Rams’ punter job over four-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker, who was at home in L.A. starting his second week on the COVID-19 reserve list?
The decision on the Rams’ most prominent remaining first-unit position battle will come in the next couple of days when the Rams cut their roster from its current 80 to the regular-season 53 in time for Tuesday’s deadline.
Suffice it to say Bojorquez, the 24-year-old signed as a free agent in the offseason, is one of the Rams who helped their causes in the final preseason game.
“We all knew he could punt. We see him in practice, and it’s ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” quarterback Bryce Perkins said, moving his head like someone watching a rocket blast off. “He came out tonight and did his thing.”
Perkins himself had another poised, creative game, going all the way at quarterback (201 yards on 23 for 42 passing, a team-high 50 yards rushing on nine carries), although he couldn’t get the Rams a touchdown, ending a last-minute drive with two incomplete throws into the end zone.
The Rams’ No. 3 quarterback — behind Matthew Stafford and John Wolford — could be claimed by another team if he’s risked on waivers before he can be placed on L.A.’s 16-member practice squad for a second year.
Rams coach Sean McVay said a decision hasn’t been made on whether to avoid losing Perkins by placing him on the active roster.
“To Bryce’s credit,” McVay said. “he’s definitely making it a very difficult decision.”
Said Perkins: “I try to do a good job of not being too worked up, too anxious about the things that may happen in the next couple of days. Whenever you put it all on the line, you can live with any result.”
Among other big playmakers: Wide receiver Tutu Atwell had eight catches for 62 yards; wide receiver Jeremiah Haydel had a 40-yard kickoff return; defensive lineman Michael Hoecht forced and recovered a fumble, and linebacker Christian Rozeboom intercepted pass tipped by linebacker Terrell Lewis.
Jake Funk sat out, indicating he has clinched the third running-back role behind Darrell Henderson and newly acquired Sony Michel. Getting almost all of the handoffs and pitchouts, Xavier Jones couldn’t break loose. He gained 44 yards on 13 carries and 20 on three catches.
Jones left the game in the fourth quarter with what looked like a leg injury, as did rookie defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, but McVay said indications were that both would be OK.
The loss to the Broncos (3-0) left the Rams (0-3) with their first winless preseason since they went 0-4 in 2015, their last season in St. Louis.
Of course, winning wasn’t the object of this game, the last chance for players trying to win roster spots and prominent roles.
Enter Bojorquez (pronounced buh-hor-kez).
Bojorquez’s 67-yarder came with the Rams backed up in the second quarter. Bojorquez put his foot to the ball inside the Rams 5, and it carried over Broncos returner Kendall Hinton to the Denver 15. It bounced backward before being downed by L.A.’s Chris Garrett.
Funny, Bojorquez’s night didn’t begin that well, his first punt going out of bounds after 38 yards.
He said he was “antsy” before that punt. He used a breathing technique afterward to calm down. Punting, after all, isn’t all about whaling the ball as far as you can.
“You’ve got to be real precise at some points, and then at other times you get a chance to let it go,” Bojorquez said.
One of his kicks Saturday was a side-spinning “banana punt,” something he’d never tried until Hekker taught it to him.
Hekker’s absence from Saturday’s game because of COVID-19 was the latest cloud over the 31-year-old’s future, which has been up in the air since the NFL’s highest-paid punter averaged a career-low 45.6 yards per attempt in his ninth Rams season.
The team signed Bojorquez, let go by the Bills after averaging a league-leading 50.8 yards in 2020. At this point, Bojorquez looks like a cheaper, equally proficient choice. Snead and McVay have offered praise but little assurance to Hekker publicly.
“We know what a great player Johnny Hekker is. Corey came out here and did an excellent job,” McVay said. “I do think it’s very clear we have two starting punters on our (80-man) roster, and that’s a positive thing.”
One Rams decision-maker who wasn’t watching Bojorquez in person was special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who didn’t travel with the team after the 56-year-old coach entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
Also at home in COVID-19 protocol was wide receivers coach Eric Yarber, who’s 57.
McVay said at the start of training camp in late July that “close to 100%” of the roster, and all of the staff, was fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Since then, rookie wide receiver Tutu Atwell, Hekker and Bojorquez, tight-ends coach Kevin Carberry and now DeCamillis and Yarber have missed games or practices after testing positive or having close contact with someone who did.
Now, there are no more games or practices before Rams coaches and executives weigh what they’ve seen since the start of training camp a month ago.
NFL teams must reduce rosters to 53 for the regular season by Tuesday at 1 p.m. Pacific time, but the Rams are expected to announce cuts Sunday and Monday.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald came in No. 2 on the NFL’s annual top 100 list voted by the league’s players, it was announced Saturday. After being No. 1 on the list in 2019 and No. 3 in 2020, and Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in four years last season, the defensive tackle was out-voted only by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey was voted No. 13 in the rankings.
Kevin Modesti reported from Los Angeles.