It was something of a surprise when the Buffalo Bills brought back punter Colton Schmidt earlier this offseason, and it was an even bigger surprise when it was revealed that he had earned a raise from his previous contract.
To put it bluntly, Schmidt was one of the worst punters in the NFL last year. His gross average of 42.44 yards per punt ranked below all but one punter among those with at least 40 attempts last year. He was one of six punters to record a punt of fewer than 30 yards from his own territory, and the only one to pull that off twice. It was a far cry from his 2015 form, when his average was four yards higher than it was last year.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Bills decided to bring in some competition for the punting job. The undrafted free agent market supplied Austin Rehkow from the University of Idaho, who performed both punting and kicking duties for the Vandals in his college career.
Depending on how much you read into the statements from special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, Schmidt might have a slight lead in the competition right now.
“I think they’re both doing well,” said Crossman before practice on Wednesday. “Obviously Colton [Schmidt] had two outstanding days, Austin [Rehkow] has done a very nice job. As we all know, we have a long way to go with this process.”
“Process” aside, Schmidt has had a pretty good camp so far. He’s hit a long punt of 62 yards, which would beat last season’s long by four yards. Rehkow has mostly been notable for filling in as a backup kicker for Stephen Hauschka, although it’s unlikely that he’ll be taking that job on a regular basis. As far as the punting goes, he’s been holding his own so far in camp.
Barring an injury or shockingly good/bad performance, this is a position battle that will probably go down to the wire. Crossman has noted that Rehkow’s cross-training experience as a punter, kicker, and kickoff specialist “helps his cause,” so it’s possible that could be a tiebreaker if there’s not a clear winner after four preseason games.
It’s not the most important training camp battle, but it is important.