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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

March 6, 2013 at 9:48 AM

Spring position preview — Special teams

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We’ll conclude our look at UW’s football team by position groups heading into the spring with a review of the special teams.

A LOOK BACK AT 2012

The Huskies entered 2012 needing to find a lot of new key parts to their special teams after the graduation of the likes of Erik Folk and Kiel Rasp off the 2011 squad.

Ultimately, all of the kicking duties fell into the lap (or onto the feet) of Travis Coons (pictured above in a Dean Rutz photo kicking a game-winner against Oregon State).

Coons became the first UW kicker in decades to handle every significant kicking duty for a lengthy period of time — punting, kicking off and doing field goals and PATs. And while there were some hits (the game-winner against Oregon State and a key kick against Stanford) there were also two notable misses late in games down the stretch against WSU and Boise State (though he also made a kick to put UW ahead of the Broncos with 4:09 to play).

The rest of the special teams were also something of a mixed bag. UW was pretty good in coverage, but finished 101st in the nation in net punting, 82nd in punt returns and 70th in kickoff returns, and still have not returned either a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown since 2007 (the last KO returned for a TD came in 2007 via Louis Rankin in the Apple Cup and the last punt returned for a touchdown was by Charles Frederick against Oregon State in 2003).

A LOOK AHEAD

The goal for UW this year is to split up the kicking duties, with Korey Durkee possibly winning back the punting and true freshman Cameron Van Winkle, who will arrive in time for the second half of spring ball, doing at least kickoffs..

Here’s what UW coach Steve Sarkisian said about Van Winkle and the kicking game on Monday: “He’s a big leg kid. He is a guy when you see him kick, he has a very powerful leg. I would like to think we are going to see an immediate impact from him on kickoffs., to where we are not having to cover on as many kicks, to where they are going to get the ball on the 25 yard line as first and ten off of touchbacks. By doing that, I think that will lighten some of the load on Travis (Coons) to where he is not exhausting himself on kickoffs and in the punt game and in the field goal game to where Travis can really focus in on field goals, and if Cameron is good enough to beat him then so beat it. The competition will be on there. I’m hopeful that Korey Durkee can return to form in the punting game to lighten the load on Travis there as well. I think we asked a lot of Travis last year to do all three. I think there are not many guys in the country that can handle that. Whether or not that had an effect on some of the kicks late in the ball games, late in the year, I don’t know that, but I do know that is a tall order so I would like to reduce some of that on Travis as we get into next fall.”

As Sarkisian also noted, the team is without its regular deep snapper this spring with Ryan Masel taking the spring off. He will return in the fall and take back the duties then. Until then, guys such as Drew Schultz, Evan Hudson and Taylor Hindy will handle those duties in the spring.

UW  also loses its holder in Cody Bruns. William Chandler, though, returns after doing it in 2011 when  Bruns was out and Jeff Lindquist also appeared to be getting reps there in Tuesday’s practice.

Spring is not a big time for doing a lot of 11-on-11 style returns, something they usually wait to emphasize in the fall when the true frosh arrive. All of the regular kickoff returners — Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall, Kevin Smith, Greg Ducre — are back, as is Shaq Thompson, who had 30-yard kickoff return against Boise State in the bowl  game, one of just two returns he had for the season.

Sarkisian provided some insight into the return game Monday when asked if Thompson  will continue to get a chance to return  kicks. Said Sarkisian: “That’s a little easier one to answer in the fall when I get all these guys on board. When we’re in spring practice, our return game is more about fundamentals than it is scheme because you don’t have your complete roster, and so many of our special teams guys are our younger players. We have some fantastic guys coming in that are fantastic returners. I will say that we probably wanted to use him more in the return game last year than we did, but it’s pretty taxing to be an outside linebacker in our conference. Whether it was a touchdown drive or a field goal drive, to go right back out there and return a kickoff and run 50, 60, maybe 100 yards – the toll that it can take on him over time…so we weren’t able to do it as much as we would have liked. Where we go with it in the fall, I’m not exactly sure. I’d like to give him some opportunities, because the one return he had it was probably the best one we had all year. But it’s gotta be what’s in the best interests of Shaq and his development at linebacker and what we have on our roster and the compliments that we have back there with him returning the kicks.”

As for punt returns, Bruns graduates after leading the team in that category last season. Marvin Hall, who was second in that area last year, is back, and as Sarkisian noted above, some of the younger players could be a fit there, as well. Essentially, the returners, and the makeup of the coverage teams, are things that won’t really be decided until the fall.

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