OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Though he’s pretty adept at flinging the football, Sam Koch is far more valuable to the Baltimore Ravens when using his right foot.
Koch leads the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20 yard-line, including 16 inside the 10. He received a game ball last Sunday — a rarity for a punter — after he pinned Cleveland inside the 20 on four of his five kicks, three of which were downed within 5 yards of the goal line.
Through years of experimentation and practice, Koch has found a way to seemingly defy the laws of physics by making a football pop straight up after making contact with the ground.
“Sam is probably more precise than any punter I have seen — not just been around, but seen,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They say the ball takes funny bounces for a reason: It is oblong. Sam Koch seems like he has perfected that oblong somehow, some way, because it rarely takes off into the end zone. That is the measuring stick.”
Of Koch’s 74 punts this season, only three have resulted in touchbacks. Depending on the distance and weather conditions, Koch will either put up a pooch-kick or slice one out of bounds in the shadow of the goal line.
“He’s got excellent ball control,” special teams coach Jerry Rosburg said. “He can hit it right, he can hit it left, he can get it wide, and he can hit narrow.”
It’s not by accident. Koch has 13 different kinds of punts, each of which he works on repeatedly during the week. Then, come Sunday, he selects one or another from his expansive repertoire.
“A lot of it is wind-related and depends on the returner,” he said.
OK, but how the heck does Koch send a football 50 yards downfield with backspin on it?
“Exactly how he does it? I have no idea,” Harbaugh said. “They have their techniques they work on. He would be the right guy to ask, but he probably won’t tell you. I can’t tell you, so I guess people aren’t going to know. But it is amazing.”
Koch insists there’s no secret to his success.
“It’s a 50-50 shot. The ball’s going end over end, and it can either go forward or backward,” Koch said. “Now, the ball’s spinning backward, so you’re hoping it goes backward.”
It does indeed, more often than not. Koch is the holder for placekicker Justin Tucker, who had all sorts of good things to say about his teammate Tuesday after Baltimore (8-6) finished practice in preparation for Saturday’s game against Indianapolis (3-11).
“What makes Sam so good? It’s a combination of a lot of things that he does incredibly well,” Tucker said. “If I had to point to one thing, it would be his attention to detail. And anybody in this locker room will tell you, Sam is one of the best athletes on this team.”
Since joining the NFL in 2006, the 35-year-old Koch has never missed a game. His run of 190 straight is a team record, as is his 45.2-yard career gross average and 39.6 net.
He has punted 936 times in the regular season (with only 72 touchbacks) and had only three kicks blocked.
And that’s not all.
Everyone once in a while, the Ravens ask Koch to throw the ball out of punt formation on a fake. His career passing numbers: 4 for 4 for 48 yards and a solid 116.7 quarterback rating.
Koch put all his talents on display during a Monday night game against Houston on Nov. 27. He placed five punts inside the 20, averaged 51.3 yards on six kicks and tossed a fourth-down, 22-yard pass to Chris Moore to set up a touchdown.
“We go out there and execute the way we practice it,” Koch said of the successful fake punts. “I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way.”
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