We’ll end the post-spring position reviews with another spot that should be both improved and a strength for the Huskies this year — special teams.
All the main personnel in the kicking batteries return — kicker, both punters, holder and snapper (that’s kicker Erik Folk and holder Cody Bruns celebrating the game-winning field goal against USC last year in a Getty Images photo). And there seems to be a lot of capable players to turn to at the return spots, as well as the coverage units, the areas where the team most needs an upgrade.
First, a look at the official post-spring depth chart:
Kiel Rasp, 6-3, 215, Sr./OR
Will Mahan, 5-11, 200, Sr.
Erik Folk, 5-11, 197, Sr.
Brendan Lopez, 6-0, 226, Sr.
Cody Bruns, 5-11, 177, Sr.
Kevin Smith, 6-0, 197, So.
Jesse Callier, 5-10, 205, So.
Devin Aguilar, 6-0, 188, Sr./OR
Sean Parker, 5-10, 200, So.
Obviously, the kicking spots seem secure, if not all of them are necessarily settled.
Folk, who has earned a reputation as one of the better clutch kickers in UW history the last two years, is set as the kicker. Folk was 13-20 last season and slumped a little the second half of last season (as I detailed in this story during the spring). But the job is his heading into 2011 and his overall track record (31-41 in two years as the starter) is obviously solid. As the linked story also notes, Folk spent the spring working on improving distance and accuracy on his kickoffs and that will remain a goal throughout the fall.
The punting spot appears up for grabs between Mahan, the starter in 2009 and 2010 before tearing his ACL in practice before the second game last year against Syracuse; and Rasp, who took his spot and proceded merely to average a school-record 43.76 yards per punt the last 12 games off 2010.
Mahan appears on track for a full recovery, so assuming the two are left to duke it out, the punting spot could be the most competitive in fall camp. Regardless of who wins, UW will have a proven punter and apparently few worries at that spot.
The snapper and holder spots are also set with returners in Lopez (a walk-on who was placed on scholarship a year ago) and Bruns, who were mostly flawless last season (save for the one bad snap in Lopez’s first game at BYU).
The return spots figure to be more competitive once all the Class of 2011 signees arrive in the fall. UW has somewhat mysteriously struggled in both spots of late, ranking seventh in punt returns in the Pac-10 last year (4.92 per attempt) and ninth in kickoff returns (20.87).
UW seems to have ample talent at each return spot. Smith, in particular, could stake a real claim as a returner, showing obvious gamebreaking ability throughout the spring.
Parker’s inclusion as one of the two returners was somewhat of a surprise when the official depth chart was released — he was off-limits to contact throughout the spring due to a nerve/stinger injury. But coaches obviously saw something in him during the time he was able to practice to think he can compete for the punt return job in the fall along with Aguilar, who got the bulk of the duty a year ago.
But as noted earlier, expect incoming players such as JC transfer Antavius Sims and freshman Marvin Hall (to name two) to get a lot of looks at the return spots in the fall.
The Huskies are also hoping for vast improvement in the coverage units after ranking seventh in punt return coverage last season (10.11 per attempt) and ninth in kickoffs (24.09).
After some major breakdowns in games early in the season, the Huskies settled down the coverage units late last season, in part after deciding to put veterans on the field as often as possible. That philosophy may continue this year, though the hope is also that an upgrade in overall talent will result in improvement on the coverage teams.