Ravens punter Sam Koch may be the first player in Pro Bowl history to show up to practice early and stay late – just to get some more work in.
Koch arrived for Thursday's light session more than half an hour before all the other players rolled up to the beach-side field on a regal white trolley. After signing autographs for kids, Koch egged on Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey to throw the cleats back on and kick more balls.
"We wanted to get some timing down," Koch said with a smile. "Hey, it's work, right?"
Well, yeah, kinda. It's Pro Bowl work.
It's all the same for Koch, and not at all surprising. After 10 years as one of the league's best punters, Koch is finally getting the long-overdue recognition he deserves at the NFL's annual all-star game. And he's making sure* *he makes a good impression.
While it was a bummer that Koch and his long snapper, Morgan Cox, landed on separate Pro Bowl teams (Koch on Team Irvin and Cox on Team Rice), it has actually allowed both sides to see what life is like outside of the Ravens' special teams unit.
Cox was with fourth-year Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who is eight years younger than Koch. Hekker is a big-bodied punter with a huge leg. Koch can boom it too, but he's a lot more detailed with his work and has more tricks in his bag.
After Cox's practice, which was the first of this year's Pro Bowl, he said he was curious to see how Koch would handle the eased-up tempo and seriousness of an all-star practice.
"He's a very intense, very driven, OCD guy, and this is just not his atmosphere," Cox said with a laugh. "He'll probably have to punt like 30 balls today just because that's what he's used to doing."
Koch probably punted more than that over the course of the day.
"Sam's OCD nature comes to light," Cox said. "He analyzes every little thing he does. Johnny is a heck of a punter; he bombed two or three here in practice. But you can see where 10 years has taken Sam. I'm sure if you looked at Sam in Year 4, you would see a lot of the youth you see in Johnny too."
That's not just Cox being biased about the expertise of his own punter. Hekker saw the difference too.
"I'm a little easier going in my approach," Hekker said. "[Koch and Cox] do a lot of very detailed, meticulous work. That helps them be successful and that's why they're here. Maybe I can pick up on some of that stuff.
"[Koch] works very hard to be a very good punter and it shows. Some of his punts and styles are catching on and you see a lot of other guys using it. Like they say, real recognize real. … You'll see a lot of guys who will give him credit down the road."
Hekker said he's happy to see Koch get the Pro Bowl credit he has long deserved. Not only has Koch put up some of the best stats in the league year after year, he has changed the game.
The league is slowly shifting in his direction (or at least trying to). For other punters to use as many high-difficulty punts as Koch, they'll have to practice it over and over until it's perfected well enough to use in a game. Otherwise, they'll just continue to boom it as high and far as they can.
Seattle wide receiver and Pro Bowl returner Tyler Lockett fielded punts from Koch this season. Lockett said the Seahawks tried to mimic Koch's variety pack of punts in practice leading up to the game. They specifically game-planned for a punter.
Lockett said he got two different punts from Koch. He got a "boomerang," which is a punt that dives back toward the punter and can catch a returner off guard. Lockett also said he got a "Wild Bill," which is, essentially, a difficult-to-field knuckle ball with no rotation.
"Coming out of college, you don't really see punts like that," said the rookie Lockett. "You don't really see too many of them in the pros either."
While the work is what Koch enjoys, he's also clearly enjoying his first Pro Bowl trip. He brought a large family contingent to Hawaii, has hung out with Cox and hiked with fellow Pro Bowl teammate Marshal Yanda to the scenic Waimea Falls after Thursday's practice.
"It's awesome to see," Cox said. "He's deserved it for a long time. I'm happy to go as well, but I'm really thrilled for him just because of the road he's taken to get here. I'm happy the other kickers and punters around the league are giving him the recognition he deserves."
Koch said being in Hawaii is "special" and once again thanked his teammates and coaches – many of which he offered to fly out to the event – for helping to get him in the all-star game.
But make no mistake. He very much wants to put on a good performance in Sunday's game.
"Every time I'm on the practice field or game field, I want to make a good impression," Koch said. "My goals in this game are like they are in every game."