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The Ravens' 'Wolfpack' sticks through the uprights

In the middle of a photo shoot Wednesday afternoon at the Ravens training facility in Owings Mills,

In the middle of a photo shoot at the Ravens training facility in Owings Mills, Justin Tucker hit the ground and performed one-handed Marine pushups.

There was no particular reason. Perhaps the kicker was trying to add some comic relief by pumping up his biceps, which are puny compared to those of the rest of his teammates, even those belonging to punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox.

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Although the three members of what Tucker began calling "The Wolfpack" during his rookie season don't exactly conjure up images of the group from the motley cast of characters in the "Hangover" movie series that inspired the name, there is one commonality:

What happens in Baltimore stays in Baltimore.

That apparently includes the three specialists who have played such an integral part of the team's success since Tucker arrived as a free agent from Texas in 2012 to join Cox, who had made the team in 2010 as a free agent from Tennessee, and Koch, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2006.

The Wolfpack is entering its fifth season together; only two active snapper-holder-kicker trios in the NFL have been together longer. Tucker, with the help of Cox and Koch, has made nearly 88 percent of his field-goal attempts and all 139 extra-point tries — accuracy numbers matched only by the Dallas Cowboys' Dan Bailey.

"I've always said that Morgan and Sam, their importance is paramount to what I do on the football field," Tucker said during training camp.

"Without them, there is no me. We've all worked really well together to develop such a good rapport over these last several years. Now we fine-tune and we're able to fix anything that we might need to. We're able to do that for one another now, we know each other so well."

But like the crew from "Hangover," this Wolfpack was in jeopardy of losing one of its members.

Tucker's recent four-year contract extension, which included a record (for kickers) $10.8million signing bonus, was closed 90 minutes before the league deadline July 15. While he still would have been on the roster this season on the franchise tag, Tucker's deal means the group will likely be together through the 2019 season.

Koch signed a five-year deal last year, and Cox received a new five-year contract earlier this year.

"We have kind of created a group together that understands each other, feels comfortable with each other, and it all starts with Morgan," Koch said. "It's just a great feeling. We don't have to go out and train someone and find new ways to hold or new ways that [Tucker] wants the ball snapped. We have such a good, consistent group that keeping it consistent makes it a lot easier."

Given Cox's role as the guy whose pinpoint snaps leads to Tucker's field goals and Koch's punts, it might be fair to say that the second-most-accurate kicker in NFL history and one of the most consistent punters in memory wouldn't fare as well without a player who began long-snapping when he was roughly 10 years old.

His first peewee coach gave everybody a chance to be the long snapper, and initially, Cox concedes, he wasn't very good. He worked on it with his father and made progress.

"Every year after that the coach would ask who can long-snap and I would raise my hand, and I just got better over time," Cox said.

So has Koch since joining longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover and long snapper Matt Katula a decade ago. Koch, who had walked on in college with at Nebraska, took over when Dave Zastudil signed in Cleveland.

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Koch has taken on a similar role to the one Stover played with him.

"When I was with Stover, he was kind of a mentor to me, he taught me the ropes, taught me how to be a professional and practice every day and pay attention to the details," Koch said. "Now I've kind of switched roles and I'm doing that with the guys we have now."

Koch, who earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last season, said the three current specialists know one another as well as he, Stover and Katula once did. They can sense when one of them is having a rough day and know how to fix it.

And there have been rough days.

In 2010, Cox tore the ACL in his left knee on a field-goal attempt in a late-season game when a lineman rolled into the knee — an incident similar to quarterback Joe Flacco's injury last season. In 2014, Cox missed the majority of the season when his right knee gave out as he chased down a punt return. He had ruptured the ACL.

Koch said he could tell the difference from other long snappers in the two seasons that Cox was injured.

"Nobody has the accuracy that Morgan Cox has," Koch said. "He cherishes that and he works on that each and every day. I know that I haven't been with a whole lot of snappers, but I watch a lot of film on kickers and snappers, and there's no other guy that is anywhere as good as he is."

The other constant in this equation is the coaching The Wolfpack has received from special teams coordinator and associate head coach Jerry Rosburg as well as from kicking consultant Randy Brown, both of whom have been with the Ravens since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008.

"With Harbaugh's background in special teams [as longtime special teams coordinator in Philadelphia] and Jerry being the way he is, we got people looking at it all the time," Koch said. "Every single guy is being coached by Rosburg to become the best."

While the Ravens had their problems in the preseason with finding a punt returner as well as covering on kickoffs — the latter in part because Rosburg had Tucker or rookie free agent Wil Lutz kick in the middle of the field to entice a return — there have been no problems with The Wolfpack.

But that has not led to complacency.

"When I said I guess I don't worry about them, I worry about them," Rosburg said after a recent practice.

"I challenge them, and they challenge themselves. These three guys are highly professional individuals. They are very meticulous about their preparation. They want to do things right in practice. They want to have good preparation for the week so they can feel good about going into the games."

The partnership of Cox, Koch and Tucker has extended off the field as well. There is a significant age gap between the oldest (34-year-old Koch) and youngest (27-year-old Tucker), and the three are in different stages of family life, but they consider themselves good friends off the field.

"Sam is the dad figure, keeping us in line," Cox said. "Tucker is the comedian, keeping us laughing. I don't know what my role is other than to just hang out and be everybody's best friend — I don't know. That's what I am trying to do."

None of them are certain when the first reference to "The Wolfpack" was made, or why it stuck. Koch, the father of four who says he doesn't watch many movies, is not even sure what it means.

Tucker, the first of the three to be in the Pro Bowl in 2013, sheepishly acknowledged "I might have tweeted something out" as a rookie.

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His admission is accurate: In October 2012, Tucker tweeted something about watching "Family Guy" reruns, and then-teammate Torrey Smith replied by inviting Tucker out to eat if he was bored. Tucker declined the invitation, opting instead to stick with his pack.

"I would but I'm gonna be hangin w/ one of the members of the #Ravens three-man Wolfpack, @cmorgancox," Tucker tweeted.

And so a nickname was born.

"It's a fun way to refer to the three of us," Tucker said. "We really do feel that way. We're the three best friends anyone can have, just like in the movie."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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