Wolf Pack

Punter Sam Koch, kicker Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox may compare themselves to a buddy comedy off the field, but they're three of the main reasons the Ravens special teams were so strong in 2012. (Baltimore Sun)

They are the three best friends that anyone could have.

Sam Koch, Morgan Cox and Justin Tucker are pretty much inseparable. Whether they are taking on Joe Flacco and Michael Oher in a heated game of cornhole, hitting the Las Vegas strip in the offseason, or helping the Ravens win football games with clean snaps and clutch kicks, you rarely spot one member of "the Wolf Pack" without seeing the other two trailing a step behind.

"We're all three kind of strung from the same bean and have a lot of fun out there," Koch said.

Though they're just starting their second season all being together, the Ravens' punter Koch, long snapper Cox and kicker Tucker have formed close relationships on the field and friendships away from football. They are bonded through humor, hard work and an appreciation for the nuances of the kicking game.

And they give the Ravens one of the best trios of specialists in the NFL.

Koch has long been one of the AFC's best as his position, though he is the Susan Lucci of punters when it comes to Pro Bowl selections. Cox has been reliable at the most unheralded position in football, prompting the Ravens to reward him with a new contract this offseason. But the arrival of the quirky rookie free agent kicker from Texas last year shook up the groupand helped give the Ravens one of the NFL's best special teams units in 2012.

"When Justin came in it really loosened us up and really helped us do our best," Cox said.

After Tucker arrived in Baltimore to push incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff, he remained positive and professional despite getting the cold shoulder from Cundiff, who at one point late in the preseason said he felt that he was only competing against himself.

Tucker didn't carry himself like a typical rookie, and he won over teammates on one of the biggest stages of training camp. With all eyes on him, Tucker stepped into the spotlight and executed perfectly.

That was at the team's annual rookie talent show, when Tucker's spot-on impersonation of linebacker Ray Lewis giving one of his legendary locker room speeches cracked up the room, Lewis included.

"I was laughing the whole way through, so it's hard to even remember what he said," Cox said.

Tucker won the kicking competition and became fast friends with Koch and Cox, who have worked together since 2010. The 30-year-old Koch, with his deadpan sense of humor, was already a locker room jokester, taping teammates' interviews with an imaginary video camera. Cox, 27, is the straight man in the comedy routine, though he knows how to crack a joke, too. Tucker, 23, brings energy and excitement to the mix, bouncing around the halls of the practice facility, belting out opera songs and impersonating everyone from actor Christopher Walken to Ravens stretching specialist Roger Erickson.

"Morgan and I are more laid-back, but he is the one …," said Koch, pausing as Tucker had an animated conversation down the hallway, "… as you can hear, who always has to be saying something."

Naturally, they needed a nickname. Tucker dubbed them the Wolf Pack, a reference from the popular 2009 comedy, "The Hangover," because just like the movie's three protagonists, they are "the three best friends that anyone could have."

During training camp practices, they slip away from the collisions and trash talk to an empty practice field to work on their crafts with special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown. When Cox is snapping balls to Koch to punt, Tucker lines up with his hand in the dirt to impersonate a defensive tackle for Cox's benefit. Koch and Cox watch as Tucker practices field goals by aiming at a narrower set of uprights than regulation size. Occasionally, during a break, Tucker goes deep and catches a pass from Koch.

After practice, they chuck bean bags in the locker room or rattle the bubble hockey machine in the players' lounge. They hang out outside the facility, too. Tucker and Cox drive out to Westminster to wrestle with Koch's three young boys or, as Tucker puts it, "grab a bite" at a restaurant. Tucker and Cox hit the movies with mutual friends from outside of football.

This offseason, the Wolf Pack, Brown and their significant others vacationed together — in Las Vegas, of course. They did not steal Mike Tyson's tiger, trash a convertible or reenact any other scenes from "The Hangover." They just took in a few stage shows and chowed down at fancy restaurants.

"It's pretty normal stuff for dudes in their 20s and 30s, I feel like," Tucker said. "We take pride in that, that we're all just normal dudes who love to play football. I don't think that's unique to anybody in that locker room."

Still, the kicker, punter and long snapper are like a team within in the team because they are often isolated from their other teammates during practices and games. Koch acknowledges that they are subject to playful ribbing from big linemen and extroverted outside linebackers, which is common throughout all levels of football. But the three specialists are respected Ravens, too.

"Those guys are awesome," defensive tackle Arthur Jones said. "Those guys work hard, and it's fun to have those guys around. They definitely make camp go easier because someone is always cracking a joke out of those three."

And when it's time to get serious, they are very good at what they do.

Tucker had one of the best seasons ever for a Ravens kicker in 2012, making 34 of 37 field goal attempts, including the playoffs, but he says he is striving for perfection. And despite booming 61 touchbacks as a rookie, he worked in the offseason to add distance to his kickoffs.

Koch set career highs with his 47.1 punting average and a 40.8 net punting average during the regular season last year, but he is focused on pinning more punt returners inside their own 10-yard line.

And if you don't notice Cox — or "Old Man Morgan" as Tucker and Koch call him because of the way he acts and moves — that means he is doing his job just fine.

"We have three really quality people and three really quality specialists," Rosburg said. "We feel good going into the season with them."

And as far as the Wolf Pack is concerned, they feel their friendship has elevated their performance to new heights.

"Absolutely. Absolutely. That's a big part of the accountability and doing our jobs to the best of our abilities," Cox said. "The relationship is fun and it keeps it loose, but we are able to focus when we have to."

matt.vensel@baltsun.com

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