In the wake of dramatic breakdowns in its kickoff coverage against Stanford, the Huskies are going with their “best guys” on that special-teams unit for Saturday’s game against No. 2 Oregon.
Senior kicker/punter Travis Coons has taken over as the kickoff specialist, with freshman kicker Cameron Van Winkle (back) still “a little banged up,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said.
During practice Wednesday morning, UW’s kickoff coverage unit included six defensive starters plus linebacker Travis Feeney, one of the Huskies’ best special-teams performers.
“Some of the things that we’ve done on our kick coverage unit has been positive,” Sarkisian said Wednesday. “We worked on it again today extensively after working it Monday. We’ll do it again tomorrow because we just don’t want that to be the deciding factor in the ball game for us, our inability to go down and cover on a kickoff. I think that was one of the disappointing things coming out of that game last week. … The kick coverage unit was a real factor and it affected the ball game.”
Stanford’s Ty Montgomery returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against UW Saturday night. Montgomery also had a 72-yard return to set up another Stanford touchdown.
Sarkisian said on his radio show Monday that the Huskies had moved safety Will Shamburger, one of their most productive players on coverage teams, to the other side of the field, hoping to free him from a double team.
For now, Sarkisian said, Coons will be the kickoff specialist in addition to his duties as punter and place-kicker. Coons did all three jobs last season.
“Ideally, do we want him doing all three? No, but we’ve been able to get to this point in Game 6 where he hasn’t had to kick off, his leg is fresh and we haven’t exactly attempted a bunch of field goals,” Sarkisian said. “So I feel good about him going into this game kicking off for us.”
Daniels moves inside: True freshman Darrell Daniels has been a regular contributor for the Huskies on special teams, and he was again part of the kickoff-coverage unit Wednesday morning.
There is, however, one significant change for the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Daniels: He has shifted from wide receiver to tight end.
Sarkisian said Daniels reminds him of former USC tight end Fred Davis, who was also a converted receiver.
“(Davis) was a big guy like Darrell, strong, fast (and) ended up winning the Mackey Award and now starts in the NFL and is doing pretty good for himself,” Sarkisian said. “So we’re going to invest our time in it the rest of the season and invest our time in it in spring ball and then we’ll make truly a final decision once he’s had a chance to develop at the position. But I think he has a chance to be special at the position. He’s a strong guy. He’s almost 240 pounds. He’s extremely fast, so I think he’s got a chance there.”