I heard from some Ravens fans who questioned the team's move last week to make a long-term commitment – which included more than $7 million in guaranteed money – to punter Sam Koch when the team is going to need all the salary cap space it can get next offseason.
My response is that Koch is one of the steadiest, most reliable and most respected players in the Ravens locker room. And he's been damn good at what he does for a long time. The Ravens don't ask Koch to boom 60-yard punts down the middle of the field -- they ask him to nullify opposing return games and pin the opposition inside the 20-yard line with his directional punts toward the sideline.
Koch's 43.3-yard net punting average led the league last year and was the fourth-best mark in NFL history. Since Koch became the team's punter in 2006, the Ravens have only allowed three punt return touchdowns in nine seasons and the team has ranked in the top 10 in fewest punt return yards allowed (on average) in five of those years.
Sure, the Ravens stress special teams and they've had some really good cover guys, but Koch is a big reason for those numbers. To suggest that the Ravens could've just invested a fifth or sixth-round pick in a college punter next offseason when Koch was initially due to hit free agency, and they wouldn't miss a beat, is a bit optimistic and lacks an understanding of how good the team's veteran punter has been at his various roles.
Even with his new deal, Koch isn't the one of the league's five-highest paid punters in terms of average salary per year. The Ravens gave him a nice contract, but it was one that he's earned.
And one more thing on Koch: As the holder on field goals, he's been flawless. That should not be overlooked, especially when there are games lost every year because of holder mishaps.
Much ado about Ngata
Stories are blown up all the time at this time of year because frankly, there isn't a heck of a lot to write about on most days with training camp still a couple of weeks away. So, former Raven defensive lineman Haloti Ngata's recent comments that he's "never been a part of a defense like" the one he's currently with as a Detroit Lion caused quite a stir.
Talk about much ado about nothing. Ngata was always reverential about his defensive teammates in Baltimore. He turned pretty much every question about his own play into praise for his teammates. No Raven sought the spotlight less. And since his offseason trade to the Lions, Ngata has been effusive with expressions of gratitude toward the Ravens for the success that he had and how he and his family were treated in Baltimore.
It's not my place to speak for him, but I feel quite confident in saying that he wasn't trying to slight the Ravens with his comments. He was just talking up his new teammates, which is pretty much what most veterans do when they go to a new team. No harm, no foul.
Defensive line in good shape
I spoke recently with former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager and current NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly about the Ravens roster heading into training camp. Casserly likes how the team is constructed and is especially excited about several of the team's young offensive players, even singling out running back Lorenzo Taliaferro as a guy who could have a breakout year.
But on defense, he's really intrigued with how the Ravens will go about replacing Ngata. He feels a drop-off in production from the defensive tackle position is inevitable, but the Ravens still have enough talent to compensate for Ngata's loss.
The way Casserly sees it, the Ravens will first need Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan to elevate their games. And then, he thinks if one of the following three players – Brent Urban, Kapron Lewis-Moore or Carl Davis – steps up and establishes himself as a key contributor, the Ravens will be fine.
I concur. As good as Ngata was, I think the Ravens are in good shape along the defensive line. It's a healthy situation because certain defensive linemen know that they're going to need to have a good camp to make the team and get playing time, so that should bring out the best in everybody.