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KOCH'S EYE ON PUNTS, NOT HIS CONTRACT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One of punter Sam Koch's responsibilities is pinning opponents deep in their territory. Landing a long-term deal with the Ravens can be just as strenuous.

Koch is in the final year of a four-year contract he signed as a rookie after the Ravens selected him in the sixth round of the NFL draft in 2006. Talks regarding an extension likely won't take place until season's end, but Koch said he can't afford to be distracted by potential negotiations.

"It's at the end of the season, and I'm just kind of seeing what happens," he said. "I'm not really thinking about it. It's hard to say how things are going to go. I'm just going out there and focusing more on the things that I'm doing rather than what else is going on."

Koch, 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, enjoyed a career year last season, setting single-season Ravens records in punting average (45.0 yards) and net average (39.9 yards). His punting average ranked ninth in the NFL, and his net average ranked fifth.

Koch also led the NFL with 18 punts inside the 10-yard line and finished second to the Chicago Bears' Brad Maynard with 34 punts inside the 20.

Koch has carried some of that consistency over to this season, averaging 45.9 yards per punt - which is tied for ninth in the league with the Carolina Panthers' Jason Baker. Koch has landed six punts inside the 10.

But he has also encountered some hiccups. After putting just nine punts into the end zone last season, Koch has had five result in touchbacks this year, and he has managed just 12 punts inside the 20, which is tied for 19th in the NFL.

Koch's net average of 38.3 yards ranks 18th, and he is one of only four punters - the Kansas City Chiefs' Dustin Colquitt, the Green Bay Packers' Jeremy Kapinos and Baker are the other three - to have a punt blocked this season.

Koch, who had only one punt blocked in his first three seasons, acknowledged that he has had to overcome a few struggles this season. "My goal is to go out each week and help the team out as much as I can," he said. "There's a few punts I'd like to have back. For the second half of the season, I'm planning on doing a lot better. I don't think it's as good as I can normally do, but I'm going out there and doing my thing for the team."

Long snapper Matt Katula, one of Koch's closest friends on the team, said the blame for the blocked punt should not be placed solely on Koch. "Numbers lie sometimes," Katula said. "If you take away the blocked punt, that affects his numbers greatly, and that's on the rest of us. It's hard to look at the numbers, but I think he's happy with the way he's kicking the ball."

Koch had one of his best games during Sunday's 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, recording a season-best 49.8 yards per punt, two punts inside the 20 and a net average of 40.8 yards.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said he and Koch's teammates have faith in the punter's abilities.

"He's hitting the ball cleanly," Rosburg said. "That's the one thing that I've noticed every week. ... Now, some of the distance situations, he's got a few more touchbacks than he'd like to, but those are balls that he really hit well that just didn't bounce right or didn't quite get wide enough. It's something he works on every Wednesday and Thursday, and he's trying to get those balls in the right direction. We have a lot of confidence in Sam. Sam is actually hitting the ball as well as he's hit it since I've been here."

With a half season left on the schedule, Koch knows the time is at hand to remove any doubt in the minds of franchise decision-makers. But he's trying to resist placing any more pressure on his punts.

"Regardless of what they want to do, I just want to go out there and give our team the best chance," Koch said. "Money's not really the issue. I still think I finish off the year great and do what I can for the team."

Notes: : Linebacker Ray Lewis missed his second straight day of practice because of a foot injury. Cornerback Chris Carr and rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe sat out for the second straight day because of illness. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right ankle) and cornerback Fabian Washington (bruised left thigh) were limited in practice after missing Thursday's session. ... Left tackle Jared Gaither (neck) was upgraded to full participation after being limited Thursday. Safeties Ed Reed (right wrist) and Haruki Nakamura (chest), linebacker Jarret Johnson (left shoulder), tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and wide receiver Kelley Washington (back) participated fully for the second consecutive day. ... Five Browns starters - running back Jamal Lewis (ankle), linebacker David Bowens (knee), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (groin), fullback Lawrence Vickers (hamstring) and right guard Rex Hadnot (knee) - were limited for the second straight day. Punter Dave Zastudil (right knee) was downgraded from full to limited participation. Tight end Robert Royal (finger) and center Alex Mack (wrist), both starters, practiced fully for the second straight day. ... If Willis McGahee is upset over reduced playing time, the veteran Ravens running back has done a good job concealing it. "I'm cool, man. I look at it as I'm healthy this year, I have no injuries. My body's in good shape," McGahee told reporters this week when asked about his recent lack of involvement in the offense. McGahee didn't touch the ball in Sunday's loss at Cincinnati and has taken a back seat to second-year starter Ray Rice this season. "He's doing a great job," McGahee said. "He gets hot in the game. As long as he stays hot, keep running the ball." ... Ravens fans looking for a rah-rah type of moment from quarterback Joe Flacco shouldn't hold their breath. "There's definitely a time for it, but if I just did it out of nowhere, people would [think] that wasn't really real," he said. "I'm not like that. There's times when I'll say things to people, and I don't need to make it known to the public that things are going on. It's not the way I am. It's not the way I'm going to be."

Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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