Brian Billick Says Sam Koch Had Hall of Fame-Worthy Career; Full Reaction to Punter's Retirement
When Sam Koch made his NFL debut in 2006, the Ravens had Steve McNair at quarterback and Brian Billick as head coach. Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens' first pick in this year's draft, was 5 years old.
That puts perspective on how long Koch, who announced his retirement yesterday after 16 seasons in Baltimore, played. However, the punter's legacy goes beyond being the franchise's all-time leader in games (256).
"When you look at the career that he's had, I would definitely say this is Hall of Fame level," Billick said on Glenn Clark Radio yesterday. "He did change the game at that position. To me, that's the ultimate definition of a Hall of Fame player."
Koch faces long odds when it comes to enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Ray Guy is the only punter with a bust in Canton, but there's no denying the impact Koch has had on the sport.
"A sixth-round pick out of Nebraska in 2006, Koch's innovative ways helped evolve the art of punting in the NFL," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "As a holder, he was so sure-handed and precise that former Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg maintains that nobody in the history of the league has been better in that role. In a league where specialists are often treated as separate entities from the team, Koch's teammates long considered the punter one of the best athletes on the Ravens. He certainly was one of their fiercest competitors, his wry smile and blue-collar approach obscuring a fiery demeanor, maniacal attention to detail and an insistence on holding himself and his special teams teammates to the highest of standards.
"Koch, though, was always hardest on himself. He was constantly tinkering, searching for ways to improve. When he entered the league, he was a directional punter, focused on pinning returners on the sideline or just booting the ball as high and deep as possible. But about midway through his career, searching for ways to nullify opposing returners in a division that included Antonio Brown, Josh Cribbs and Adam 'Pacman' Jones, Koch added to his repertoire. It started with a cross-body punt, where he angled himself toward the right sideline, but swung his foot across his body and sent the ball soaring toward the left sideline. When done correctly, the punt gives returners little time to get to the spot and return the ball. As the years went by, Koch introduced more punts, diversifying spins, trajectories and launch angles."
Koch played a key role in the Ravens' win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. With the Ravens leading by five and backed up at their own 8 with 12 seconds left, Koch took an intentional safety by taking the snap in the end zone and running off eight seconds before going out of bounds. He then booted the ensuing free kick 61 yards, which allowed his teammates time to get down the field and cover the kick to win the game.
"Looking back on it nine years later, the game-ending two-play sequence is a fitting summation of Koch's career," Zrebiec wrote. "Whether it was getting the ball down for a game-winning field-goal attempt or shifting field position late with a long punt or even converting a key fourth down with his arm, the Ravens trusted Koch implicitly when he had the ball in his hands.
"That's not something you can say about a lot of punters, but Koch was so much more than that to the Ravens over 16 years."
Here's a sample of what others around the league said about Koch yesterday:
Are Ravens One of Two Teams Reportedly in Talks With T.Y. Hilton?
Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who multiple pundits have said would be a good fit for the Ravens, is in talks with the Indianapolis Colts about re-signing, but two other teams are apparently in the mix.
"He's been quiet, but Hilton has had fruitful conversations with at least two other teams," The Athletic's Stephen Holder wrote. "There is legitimate interest outside the Colts organization. If Hilton wants to play, it appears the opportunity will be there regardless of what the Colts decide."
Whether the Ravens are one of the two teams is unknown. The Ravens like their young wide receivers, but they are lacking depth and a veteran presence at the position.
Last year, Hilton said he was "five seconds away" from signing a multi-year deal with the Ravens before accepting a one-year contract to return to the Colts.
Hilton, 32, hasn't ruled out retirement, according to Holder. A neck injury limited him to 10 games last season. He finished with 23 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns. The four-time Pro Bowler has missed 16 games over the past four seasons.
NFL Network Pundits Split Over Whether Ravens or Bengals Are AFC North Favorite
Pundits continue to debate which team is the favorite in the AFC North, which is regarded as a three-team race between the Ravens, defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
NFL Network's Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins discussed the topic yesterday and had differing opinions. Thomas likes the Ravens, while Hawkins is picking the Bengals to repeat as division champions.
"John Harbaugh, one of the best coaches in the NFL, did a masterful job [last season]. They finished almost .500 and their roster was completely decimated [by injuries]," Thomas said. "We expect nearly every one of those guys to come back at full strength. And I think that with Lamar Jackson continuing to improve every single season as a passer, this is the team to beat in the AFC North."
Hawkins said: "I gotta go with the Cincinnati Bengals. There's too many question marks at other places, especially the Cleveland Browns. We're not sure what's happening with the quarterback situation. They're a very talented football team. We know the Baltimore Ravens are also very talented, but there were a lot of injuries and it's going to take some time to jell.
"The thing that I love about the Cincinnati Bengals is, yes, they have talent, their young talent, but they are a cohesive team. When you watched them play a year ago, you could see the team truly coming together and making sure all phases of the game affected the outcome. They're only going to get better because they are so young, and with Joe Burrow coming back last season after injury, they're coming off a Super Bowl, the sky is the limit."