Losses: Travis Coons
Additions: Tristan Vizcaino
Any time you lose a kicker to the NFL, it's going to be a struggle to replace him. College kickers are almost completely unpredictable, but in Travis Coons the Huskies had one of the finest in the country in 2014. And not only did he kick, he handled the punts and kickoffs as well, so the Huskies have a tall task to replace him.
However, even if Coons had another year of eligibility, there's no guarantee that he'd even be as good in 2014 as he was in 2013. Not to take anything away from Coons, but when you look at his pedestrian 2012 season and compare it to what he did in 2013, one thing really stands out as being the difference: in 2013 he did not attempt a single late game high-leverage kick, which is precisely where he struggled in 2012. It's entirely possible that the progress he seemed to make in 2013 was an artifact of him being put in better situations.
The real area where special teams should take a leap is on its return and coverage units. It became clear to anyone watching that Johnny Nansen had no clue what he was doing with these groups. They couldn't cover anything, so they put in starters. Then they had guys like Shaq Thompson and Sean Parker on their kickoff coverage unit... and they still couldn't cover anything. At that point it's definitely not a talent issue, it's all on coaching. Then, hilariously, after Nansen left for USC, and UW not having returned a kickoff for a TD since 2007, John Ross did this:
Now they bring in Jeff Choate, who instead of being a round peg shoved into a square hole just because you want him on your staff (for what reasons did Sarkisian want Nansen on his staff that badly? Unlcear.), he actually knows how to coordinate special teams and has experience with it, having done so at Boise State, Florida, Eastern Illinois and Utah State. Here are some of his listed accomplishments while at Boise State:
Boise State ranked in the top-25 nationally in kickoff returns three times (2007, 10th; 2009 4th; 2010, 23rd ) under Choate, and in the top-25 in punt returns four times (2007, 22nd; 2008, 20th; 2010, 16th; 2011, 18th).
Among his protégés was Kyle Brotzman, the highest-scoring kicker in school and conference history (439 points) and Boise State’s career leader in punting (44.6). He also coached Kyle Wilson, who led the country in punt return touchdowns (3) and ranked 12th in punt return average (14.2) in 2008.
Verdict: Better. You can't overestimate the difference we'll see in going from Nansen to Choate. Special teams is so much about assignment and discipline, and if you don't know the basics the whole unit is going to suffer -- as we've seen. Replacing Coons will not be easy, but when he didn't really make any high leverage kicks his entire career it's hard to say that the kicker position could get worse. You've also got Chris Petersen getting his hands involved, and it's pretty obvious that he's basically over the moon about the opportunity to coach John Ross.