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Punter Sam Koch Welcoming Competition

Posted Jun 15, 2014

The Ravens brought in rookie free agent Richie Leone, who is Sam Koch's first challenger since 2011.

Sam Koch has watched talented, younger, cheaper players replace Ravens special teams veterans before. It’s natural turnover in the NFL business.

In 2010, Koch saw long snapper Morgan Cox unseat Matt Katula. In 2012, he saw kicker Justin Tucker take over for Billy Cundiff.

Now Koch has a rare challenger at punter.

Koch is sharing practice time with rookie free agent Richie Leone, a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as college football’s top punter. It’s only the third time Koch has had a challenger during his nine-year career, and the first time since 2011.

So how does Koch view the competition?

“It puts things in perspective and lets me help him and allows me to analyze myself,” Koch said.

“The main thing is being able to have somebody out there to push you that much harder. He hits a ball, you want to do that much better. And he wants to do much better than you.”

Koch remembers when he beat out a veteran, Leo Araguz, in 2006. Their relationship was fine in the beginning, but as the competition went on, Araguz became very standoffish. “He didn’t want anything to do with me,” Koch said.

Koch doesn’t want to turn into a jerk just because there’s somebody competing against him.

“Richie’s a good guy, he means well and he’s here for the same reason I am,” Koch said.

“Whatever happens in the end is going to happen. I don’t want to be one of those guys that I’ve had in the past. If [Richie’s] got any question, I’ll help him out. I hope in the end I have a job still, but it just depends on what they think and how everything goes.”

Some pundits have speculated about Koch’s future in Baltimore. He’s reportedly slated to make $2.2 million in base salary. He still has two more years left on the five-year deal he signed in 2011.

The way veterans are able to hold off challengers is to play at an elite level.

Koch is coming off a season in which he acknowledges he had some troubles. His punting average (46 yards), and net average (38.9 yards) dropped from 2012. He had two more touchbacks (nine). Especially early on, Koch dropped too many punts into the end zone when he could have pinned the opponent deep.

“I had a little rough stretch there,” Koch said. “I found myself doing way too much, trying to do it all on my own.”

This summer, he’s focusing on improving his craft to be a better team player. He wants to improve his hang time and get it into the high four-second mark, which would give his gunners more time to get down the field and force fair catches or make quicker tackles. He wants to get more punts inside the 20-yard line and fewer touchbacks.

Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said Koch has punted well during organized team activities (OTAs).

“Each year is a new year,” Rosburg said. “I think what we’ve been able to do during the course of these OTAs and football schools is to give Sam an opportunity to go back and refine his game.”

Leone has looked good as well. At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, Leone has the build of an NFL punter with long limbs and a powerful leg. As a junior, his punting average of 45.5 yards led Conference USA and was seventh-highest in all of Division I. The Houston product added place-kicking duties as a senior and is mostly known for being a good directional kicker, which fits the Ravens well.

“Richie is a talented young man,” Rosburg said. “He’s getting better at some of the things we’re trying to help him with. There are a lot of things he needs to continue to get better at. But this is a really good camp for him.”

One thing Leone is focusing on is his holding, which he did not do any of in college. Koch has held for three Pro Bowl kickers during his career (Matt Stover, Cundiff, Tucker), and while it’s an often overlooked part of the game, it’s a key one. Koch has been helping him with his holding and punting.

“I’m really, really thankful to be with a guy like [Koch] who has been awesome for so many years,” Leone said. “He’s been really great to me, teaching me the ins and outs, how he practices. It’s been good; the whole unit has been great.”

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