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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens’ special teams have yet to realize their goal of seeing coffin-corner punts, hang-time and strong field position on a regular basis.
Midway through the preseason, the Ravens have yet to settle on a starting punter even though rookie Sam Koch appears to have the inside track for the job. Neither Koch — a sixth-round draft pick from Nebraska — or veteran Leo Araguz have distinguished themselves.
Koch is averaging 36.9 yards on seven punts, one of the worst averages in the league this preseason. Araguz has punted four times for a 37.5 average, also near the bottom of the NFL punting chart.
“I haven’t been pleased with my performance yet, and I know it’s not up to what I can do,” said Koch, who finished second in the NCAA last season with a 46.5 average. “I’ve yet to come out and show that consistentcy, but I know I can do it. Against Minnesota, I hope to give the coaches that trust. I can’t wait.”
Long snapper Matt Katula said the punters have followed a familiar pattern, booting a few good kicks in a row followed by a few sub-par efforts. Koch’s punt against the New York Giants was returned 57 yards for a touchdown as five tackles were missed, including the final one by Koch.
If he’s concerned about the unsettled situation, then Ravens coach Brian Billick isn’t letting on.
“We’ve got some good competition there,” Billick said. “Other than one punt, it’s been very good. So, I’m feeling good about the guys we have in camp, their ability to do the job.”
Special teams coach Frank Gansz has a background with Araguz, who was cut last season by the Seattle Seahawks after struggling against the Washington Redskins, when both were with the Oakland Raiders. Gansz essentially hand-picked Koch with his recommendation to general manager Ozzie Newsome after a nationwide search for candidates to replace departed free agent Dave Zastudil, who signed with the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s true that the consistency isn’t there and I need to get that going,” Koch said. “It’s a competition and one of us has to step up and do the job. I’m very optimistic about my chances.”
Araguz was absent from practice Saturday and Monday, prompting questions about his status. It turned out that Araguz was excused because his wife gave birth to a baby girl over the weekend and he’s expected to return as early as today.
“I had forgotten he was away for that,” Billick said. “He’s obviously excited.”
J. LEWIS UPDATE: Former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that he’ll miss the next two weeks of the preseason with a nagging hip injury.
“Not at all, actually I really wanted to get out there the first couple of games and take some hits, get in a groove,” Lewis said. “I pretty much got done what I needed to get done. My leg needs rest. I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.”
Lewis reiterated that he doesn’t feel like sharing the workload with Mike Anderson and Musa Smith will be a problem.
“As long as we go out and win, that’s not really an issue,” Lewis said. “I don’t think me, Musa or Mike really cares how things roll. The bottom line is winning.”
TRAINING ROOM: Safety B.J. Ward missed practice again due to migraines and has undergone several batteries of neurological tests over the past few weeks. Ward has complained about dizziness, a lack of balance and is wearing sunglasses because of sensitivity to light. It’s not believed to be concussion-related.
“Obviously anytime you’re talking about that, it’s very serious,” Billick said. “We’ll wait for the doctors to tell us where he’s at with that.”
Linebacker Terrell Suggs returned to practice after a brief bout with the flu, as did linebacker Jim Cottrell. Offensive guard Brian Rimpf (hamstring) didn’t practice along with wide receiver Matt Cherry (shoulder), Lewis and Araguz.
QUICK HITS: Friday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings will mark Billick’s first game at the Metrodome since he was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. “I haven’t really had a chance to dwell on it very much, but I’ve never been on the other side of that noise, which will be interesting," Billick said. … Billick said he doesn’t believe that referees are overly scrutinizing his team following last season’s meltdown against the Detroit Lions where two players were ejected. “I don’t think our crews are singling any team out,” Billick said. When asked about the perception created by penalties of coaching an undisciplined outfit, Billick replied: “That’s one of those easy things to criticize like clock management. There’s no right answer and it’s easy just to throw it at them.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.