We’ll conclude our position reviews with a look at UW’s special teams.
It’s an area that will have a vastly different appearance in 2012 thanks to the graduations of the starting kicker (Erik Folk) and punter (Kiel Rasp), as well as the top two backups at each spot and the long snapper (Brendan Lopez).
UW could also be without its top kickoff returner of last season — Kevin Smith — depending on his knee injury and when he will be able to return.
UW, though, won’t lack for candidates at each of the return with a bevy of young and new players sure to get their chances there this spring and fall, including Kasen Williams (pictured above in a Dean Rutz photo), who was the team’s leading punt returner last season with 15 returns for 144 yards, including a long of 46 in the Alamo Bowl.
Here’s a brief overview of each position:
After losing both Rasp (who left as the school’s leading career punter in terms of average at 44.4 yards per attempt) and Will Mahan, the Huskies signed Korey Durkee, a 6-4, 195-pounder out of Gig Harbor. UW also had walk-on Sean Halligan (6-foot, 180 out of Puyallup) on the roster at the end of the season.
Durkee averaged 45.9 yards per kick at Gig Harbor and was the Times’ All-State pick, and will be expected to win the job. He doesn’t have an easy act to follow.
UW will have a kicker other than Folk for the first time since 2008. Folk was one of the better kickers in UW history, making 42-57 field goals, as well as some of the more memorable game-winners in school history, as well as all 124 PATs.
UW signed Travis Coons, a 6-2, 195-pounder out of Mt. SAC College in Walnut, Calif. — who will arrive with two years of eligibility — with the expectation that he will take over. Expect a walk-on or two to arrive in the spring and/or fall, and as is usually the case with kickers, Durkee can also kick and Coons can also punt — so there should be lots of options available to find the right guys.
Lopez handled the job pretty flawlessly (after the first punt snap of his career at BYU in 2010, anyway) the last two years on both punts and place kicks, so he’ll be player who won’t be easily replaced.
Tight end Evan Hudson was the listed backup at deep snapper last year and would presumably be the leader on the depth entering the spring. But I’d expect a few other guys to get looks there in the spring. One recruit signed with stated snapping ability is Taylor Hindy, though UW coach Steve Sarkisian said he’s more of a short snapper (meaning FGs/PATs) than long snapper.
As stated above, Smith’s injury could mean UW will be without its best kickoff returner of last season — he averaged 25.9 yards per attempt last season, seventh-best in Husky history, and he is already No. 2 in UW history in career kickoff return yards at 1,282 (No. 1 is Steve Bramwell at 1,532 from 1963-65). Smith suffered an ACL injury in the preparation for the Alamo Bowl, and considering that is usually something that takes roughly nine months from which to recover, his status for the season is iffy.
The good news is the other primary KO returner, Jesse Callier, returns, and UW has a bevy of young players who figure to get their chances to return kicks, as well, such as Marvin Hall and Antavius Sims (who will each be available this spring) and Shaq Thompson (who arrives for the fall).
Williams figures to enter the spring as the No. 1 punt returner after seeming to get a lot more comfortable in that role as the season progressed. Williams ended up averaging 9.6 yards per attempt, not all that far off the career averages for some recent guys I think UW fans regard fondly for their punt return ability such as Beno Bryant (9.7), Charles Frederick (11.1) and Napoleon Kaufman (10.8). (UW’s career leader in punt return average is Bill Cahill at 13.6).
But as with a lot of the other spots on the roster, the influx of new players will undoubtedly mean lots of guys getting opportunities to return punts in the spring and fall camps, so we’ll see if someone else emerges, as well.