Koch cred­its Ros­burg’s ‘boot camp’ with suc­cess

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

When Jerry Ros­burg joined coach John Har­baugh and the Ravens in 2008 as spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor, he al­ready knew he had a re­li­able kicker in Matt Stover. The greater mys­tery to Ros­burg was Sam Koch, the club’s punter, who had just wrapped up his sec­ond sea­son.

“When I ar­rived, Sam was do­ing one thing with the ball,” Ros­burg re­called. “He was punt­ing in one di­rec­tion, and he re­ally had just that one skill. He couldn’t punt left, he couldn’t punt right, but he was very pow­er­ful and ath­letic and all of the things that we see all of the time.”

The year be­fore Ros­burg’s ar­rival, Koch had posted his low­est ca­reer net av­er­age and his fewest punts in­side op­po­nents’ 20-yard line.

“My sec­ond year in the league, which seems like yes­ter­day, was such a rough year, and for Jerry to come in, it was a dream come true, a bless­ing for the fact that he was the one who ba­si­cally Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Off

“He has the lee­way to do stuff that nor­mal pun­ters don’t do.”

pro­pelled me to where I’m at to­day,” Koch said. “If it wasn’t for him com­ing in and [kick­ing con­sul­tant] Randy [Brown] and us spend­ing all the time that we have in the off­sea­son and work­ing on my drops and foot­work and fun­da­men­tals and tech­niques of punt­ing, there would be no way that I’d be here to­day.”

Now in his 11th sea­son, Koch is the sec­ond-long­est-tenured player with the Ravens, trail­ing only out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs. Since 2008, Koch has been one of the most con­sis­tent pun­ters in the NFL. He has fin­ished in the top 10 in net av­er­age four times, in punts in­side the 20 four times and in gross av­er­age twice.

Koch, who earned his first Pro Bowl in­vi­ta­tion last fall, has de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the best pun­ters in the NFL, ad­mired and feared by punt re­turn­ers. Devin Hester Sr., who be­came the league’s record holder in re­turn touch­downs with the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Fal­cons be­fore join­ing the Ravens in Septem­ber, said he did not en­joy re­turn­ing punts and kicks against Koch.

“He’s one of the pun­ters you don’t want to face be­cause he has the lee­way to do stuff that nor­mal pun­ters don’t do,” Hester said. “He’s prob­a­bly one of the best pun­ters I’ve ever been around.”

Koch has a va­ri­ety of punts he can pull out of his bag of tricks. He can kick a ball in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion than the one he’s fac­ing to thwart a dan­ger­ous re­turner. He Sam Koch Jerry Ros­burg can punt a ball that knuck­les. And he can kick with top­spin to in­crease the odds of the ball’s stay­ing out of the end zone and in­side the 10.

“As far as di­rec­tion, he can go both ways,” Hester said. “He can give you a hint of where he’s punt­ing the ball, and if he sees you cheat­ing one way, he’s got the skills to punt it the other way.”

Ros­burg said Koch’s arse­nal is pos­si­ble only be­cause of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to be per­fect and mas­ter cer­tain punts. Think­ing back to that win­ter of 2008, Ros­burg said the coach­ing process was long, te­dious — and suc­cess­ful.

“It was win­ter and that was back in the day when the off­sea­son sched­ule was dif­fer­ent,” he said. “We could be to­gether for most of the win­ter. We started work­ing on a dif­fer­ent way of drop­ping the ball, a dif­fer­ent way of ap­proach­ing punt­ing, and he went to work. Those 10,000-rep is­sues we talk about, well, he had all of those prob­a­bly in one month and al­tered it with the way he dropped the ball, and then he changed the way he punted. He’s been at work at that ever since. Every day, he’s still do­ing the same thing.”

Koch re­mem­bers the first month with Ros­burg with sur­pris­ing fond­ness.

“It was like go­ing to boot camp for punt­ing, and I thank him for every bit of it be­cause that’s why I’m still here,” Koch said. “Every day, we would walk up and down that field just do­ing drop af­ter drop af­ter drop. I mean, there might have been 200-some drops per day. We just fo­cused on ba­si­cally every fun­da­men­tal as­pect of punt­ing — from our steps to hav­ing a smooth drop to di­rec­tion­ally walk­ing.”

En­ter­ing Sun­day, Koch was tied for eighth in gross av­er­age (48.1 yards) and tied for 12th in punts in­side the 20 (12). The one hic­cup is his 39.1-yard net av­er­age, for which Koch blames him­self.

“It’s a group ef­fort, but first of all, it starts with me putting the ball where we prac­tice, where our guys prac­tice each and every day to go cover and get in the lanes that we prac­tice each and every day,” he said. “If I put it in a dif­fer­ent spot, it’s one of those things where we prac­tice it thou­sands of times and when we get out to a game where it’s not where they want it, it re­ally throws us off a lot and it be­comes just in­stinct for them to go out and search in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.”

Koch ranks first in team his­tory in punts (819), gross av­er­age (45.3), net av­er­age (39.5) and punts in­side the 20 (292). His grip on his po­si­tion has con­vinced the or­ga­ni­za­tion to rarely chal­lenge him with com­pe­ti­tion in train­ing camp.

But Koch also un­der­stands the folly of be­ing con­tent in the NFL. The Cleve­land Browns traded three-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion Andy Lee in Au­gust to the Carolina Pan­thers for 2014 un­drafted punter Kasey Red­fern. The reign­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion Den­ver Bron­cos re­leased Brit­ton Colquitt for rookie Ri­ley Dixon, and the Green Bay Pack­ers cut Tim Masthay for Ja­cob Schum.

“This is my 11th year, and they’ve just flown by,” Koch said. “Ide­ally, my body feels like I can do this for an­oth­er11years. But one thing that holds true is, I’ve got to go out there and per­form every sin­gle day and every prac­tice, and for that per­cep­tion to be re­ceived by the or­ga­ni­za­tion that I can still go out there and per­form at the top of my game. I would like to play as long as I can and con­tinue to sup­port an or­ga­ni­za­tion like this. But I need to go out there and con­tinue to per­form and be part of a great punt unit.”

Re­turner Devin Hester Sr.

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