2013 Spring Previews
3/5 Special Teams
This article wraps up what has been an intellectually stimulating week or so of Spring Previews ... however, it would not be complete without an expert analysis of the special teams. So, if you want an expert analysis I would recommend this link. Otherwise, read on! I know how much you've been waiting for this, since we naturally saved the best section (and author???) for last ... or was is that special teams always ends up at the end of the list?
2012 Recap - Special Teams
The original thought coming into the season was that the special teams unit would be at least status quo for the 2012 season. The Dawgs were bringing in a freshman with a booming leg for punting, an experienced placekicker from the JC ranks, and the athletes on the team were faster and, ironically, more athletic than in any years previously. Surely the Dawgs would be able to break at least one kickoff return, or punt return, for a touchdown ... Sadly, that wasn't the case.
Replacing the best punter in Husky history turned out to be too much for true freshman Korey Durkee. Actually, punting at the college level turned out to be too much for the poor kid, who dawned a deer in the headlights approach to his punts, kicking a paltry 36.9 yards per punt, which put him behind 93 other punters in the country ..., which is technically second to last place ... but I digress. The placekicker Travis Coons was put into punting action and had two of my favorite plays when he botched catching the hiked ball, managed to pick it up and then boot it with his weaker left foot, placing the opposing team behind their 20 yard line.
Mr. Coons also had a decent year as the placekicker, connecting on all 39 of his extra point attempts. He was also fairly accurate with his field goals, connecting on 9 of 14. He missed his first one of the year, but then had a streak of 7 straight before he went 50/50 at Colorado, finishing off the season at 3 for 6, including those two that got away in Pullman and Vega.
The Huskies also lost Jessie Callier, one of the main kickoff returners from 2011 to injury, but had some freshmen burners coming with at least some serious return potential. That didn't happen, as the Dawgs' kickoff return average went down 2 yards per return and the punt returns went down 3 yards per return. They tried five different returners, with Jaydon Mickens (a long of 31) and Marvin Hall (a long of 37) taking most of them.
Finally, the ever, sure-handed Cody Bruns won the punt returning job, and did provide a few electric punt returns and had one TD called back due to a penalty.
Outgoing and Incoming
The only senior the Dawgs have leaving is Cody Bruns, though he handled the punt returns when nobody else could seem to catch the punt. (Ed. note - he was also a steady presence as the holder on kicks)
John Ross, a freshman from Jordan High School in Long Beach, CA is a speedy little guy who can really do some damage in space, and will more than likely get some looks at kickoff and punt returning. Cameron Van Winkle is a local kid with a booming who is looking to compete with Travis Coons for the kickoff and field goal duties. Freshman Jermaine Kelly from Salesian High School in Los Angeles has some serious return skills, and will be competing for the nod from the coaches. He does have a tendency to run east to west when he initially gets the ball, running around kids ... that won't happen at the college level.
Projected Spring Depth Chart
The depth chart will have a lot of people listed as co-starters or co-backups just because there is going to be some serious competition, though a lot of that won't start until fall camp.
1a. Travis Coons
1b. Cameron Van Winkle
Coons should keep the job kicking PATs, since he hasn't missed in a game yet. However, come the second half of spring, after Van Winkle enrolls, expect the competition to start. I also expect Van Winkle to take over the kickoff spot, but we'll see. Both kickers were known for their big time legs.
1a. Travis Coons
1b. Korey Durkee
I fully expect Korey Durkee to take this job over. He had a rough freshman campaign, and the year sitting on the bench should be enough to light a fire under is ___ (choose your word), and get him motivated to kick the ball like he did in high school
1a. Jaydon Mickens
1b. Marvin Hall
2. Kevin Smith
I didn't add the incoming freshmen, or Jesse Callier since they won't be around for spring camp, but expect them to be in contention come fall. Both Hall and Mickens are dangerous in space, and hopefully the kickoff blocking will be better to give these two the seams they need to make those cuts up the field. So long as Hall can catch the ball on punts, he should have the nod here. There's also the chance that Kevin Smith gets back up to form from his freshman year. The last thing we need is for Kasen Williams to be forced into return duty because the younger guys can't get rid of their butter fingers.
3 Questions for Spring
1. Is this the year the upgrade in athleticism on the team shows up on special teams?
For some reason the Huskies have struggled a lot on kickoff returns and coverage ... Here's the average yards per kickoff return since 2007: 20.89, 18.7, 18.6, 20.8, 23.3 and 21.1. Here's the average yards the Huskies have given up since 2007: 24.6, 19.7, 20.6, 24.1, 23.7 and 22.1. Every single year the Dawgs have given up more yards then they get. I'm told that's a no-no in the field position game. How many times in the past few years have the Dawgs scored a huge TD and swung the momentum in their favor, only to have the opposing team take the kickoff 60+ yards down the field and score right back? I'm not going to lie, it's been FRUSTRATING to say the least. From what the coaches say, that happens when the team is lacking the athletes and lacking experience. Well, last year we had more of an experience problem than an athlete problem, and the coverage unit was a yard and a half better, and has steadily improved coverage since that horrible year in 2009. This year we are going to have both the athletes and the experience to make a big jump. If that doesn't happen, we are going to need a new special teams coach.
2. Can we please get a kicker who will kick more touchbacks?
What is up with the kickoffs. Sure, at least in the Utah game where the Huskies kicked the ball away from some kid named Reggie Dunn, some of the short kicks were warranted, but the Dawgs only kicked 11 touchbacks the entire season! They kicked it 63 times, coming up with a paltry 17.5% touchback percentage ... that was good enough for 108th in the country. (Oddly enough, the only team in the Pac-12 that did worse than the Huskies was Oregon.) Sure you could say that it's harder to kick touchbacks in Seattle, but I seem to remember the kickoffs getting moved up. Hopefully Coons' leg will stay rested for the entire year, because otherwise Rip Van Winkle's going to oust him real quick.
3. Is the the year we finally take one for the distance?
Not to be a downer, but our kickoff return game has sucked for a long, long time. To put it into the proper prospective, the Dawgs haven't taken one to the house since Louis Rankin did it in 2007 against Washington State. To make matters worse, here's where the Dawgs ranked nationally in kickoff return averages starting in 2007: 69th, 113th, 112th, 82nd, 30th and 71st. The Huskies were in the top 50% of the nation exactly one time in the past 6 years! Something has got to change, and hopefully it has a whole lot to do with my answer to question 1.
Like last year, this year's special teams unit has a lot of potential. We'll see if the game experience from last year carries over. Some of the hardest things to practice in football are kickoff and punt returns. That's when people get injured. So your "practice" comes from game experience, and this year's team has a lot of it. Time will tell, but here's one dawgfan hoping that I finally get to see them break one for a TD!