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Koch good to last drop

The Baltimore Sun

Sam Koch always had the leg.

Now he has the drop.

That combination could soon deliver the Ravens' third-year player into the upper echelon of NFL punters. Through six games this season, Koch leads the league with a 42.9-yard net punting average.

And he hasn't taken full advantage of his newest weapon, the "rugby."

The rugby is what Koch and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg call the new drop Rosburg brought with him from Atlanta this year when he joined John Harbaugh's staff.

Rather than hold the ball horizontally in his left hand on release, Koch now drops his palm and fingers to allow the ball to drop nose-first on certain punts. The results are an end-over-end kick that can be tricky to catch and a bounce that is difficult to anticipate.

"The whole concept behind it is you can control the distance better," Rosburg said. "When you spiral [kick] a ball, sometimes they sail, sometimes they cut and don't go anywhere. There is a fairly consistent distance on this kick."

It is a kick that essentially replaces the pooch punt, used most often when a team is around midfield and doesn't want to have a touchback.

Although Koch averaged a two-year best of 43.6 yards per punt in 2007, his punts inside the 20-yard line dropped by 10 and his touchbacks tripled.

"The past couple years, I would say my drop was rather inconsistent," Koch said. "This year, you know what the ball's going to do every time you drop it, and you get a feel for it. I've become more comfortable with that this year."

Rosburg's arrival from the Falcons in January signaled a new way of doing things for Koch, 26, who devoted the offseason to changing or fine-tuning his catch, drop and footwork.

"He looked at a lot of different things he thought he could improve on," Rosburg said. "We went about trying to change the way he punts. ... We all see the results of that offseason preparation."

Koch, who once drilled an 84-yard punt at Nebraska, was receptive to the new ideas.

"I like change. I like to be able to adapt to new things," he said. "I thought it was interesting how the ball did what it did [off the new drop]."

Koch is averaging 48 yards per punt (seventh in the NFL) after a spectacular day in Miami on Sunday, when he put all three of his punts inside the 20 and bounced one kick out of bounds at the 3.

The punt out of bounds went to the left, which was a rarity for Koch before this season. He estimates he kicked 90 percent to 95 percent of his punts to the right previously. This year, he says, he's about 50-50.

"There are certain situations in the game where we want to use directional punting and we want to be able to go left," Rosburg said. "Sometimes it's just by the nature of where we want to punt. Other times, it's just wind. You want to be able to use the wind.

"He's been able to improve that part of his game a great deal."

Koch is quick to credit his snapper, Matt Katula, his line protection and the support he gets from coaches for his good start. But the fact remains, Koch was able to change much of what he has done as a punter almost overnight, including the rugby.

"I think it's a good weapon for him," Rosburg said. "I wouldn't say he's perfected it, [but] he's gotten used to it in a short period of time. A lot of times, these things need a little more time in their development. He's done it in just one offseason."

NOTES: : At the end of a strange week of off-field stories, Harbaugh said the apparent distraction wasn't as bad as it might have seemed. Aside from the bounty issue, which the NFL is addressing, Harbaugh talked to linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs about his comments on quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Troy Smith. On a nationally syndicated radio show this week, Suggs said, "Troy should be the starter [because he's] the better man for the job." Harbaugh said of the conversation: "He said what he meant was he wants to see Troy playing. Could things have been stated better? I think he's gone ahead and stated that. We've talked about it. He cleared it up for me, exactly what he meant to say. I take him at his word." Harbaugh also said cornerback Chris McAlister was limited to 11 repetitions in practice this week because of a sore knee and that his availability against the Oakland Raiders tomorrow would be a game-time decision. He is listed as questionable on the injury report. ... Kick returner Yamon Figurs (knee) is doubtful, and safety Dawan Landry (neck), cornerback Samari Rolle (shoulder, neck) and tackle Adam Terry (knee) are out. ... McAlister, Figurs and wide receivers Mark Clayton (thigh) and Demetrius Williams (ankle) did not practice yesterday. Wide receiver Derrick Mason, who missed practice Thursday with flulike symptoms, and safety Ed Reed (thigh) had limited participation yesterday.

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