KO: Cameron Van Winkle, Fr.
PK: Travis Coons, Sr.
P: Travis Coons, Sr./Korey Durkee, So.
PR: John Ross, Fr.
KR: Marvin Hall, So.; Jaydon Mickens, So.
Husky fans that date back to the Don James era know full well the value of strong special teams play. The Dawgfather made this area a point of emphasis, reasoning it was the aspect of the game where he'd be most likely to find a competitive advantage over his more talented rivals in Los Angeles.
Special teams are no less important in today's game, but scholarship reductions and much smaller walk-on program have made it a challenge for coach Sark to field above-average special teams. As much as anything else, special teams play is a window into the quality of depth a team possesses. Because coaches try to limit the number of snaps of their starters, special teams are typically populated mostly by backups.
Given the lack of quality depth on the roster when Sark arrived, combined with greater roster limits now than when DJ was coach, Sark has had a more difficult time building up the quality of these units, often finding himself burning redshirts because he needed those bodies on special teams so as not to burn out his starters.
By year five, he has now recruited well enough that quality depth is emerging, and the special teams should reflect that improved situation.
Everyone remembers the disappointments from last year: the fumbled punt against Oregon by Hall; the blocked punt for a TD vs. USC; the missed FG at the end of regulation vs. WSU, and the poor kickoff in the Las Vegas bowl that set up Boise's winning drive. While none of those mistakes by themselves were the reasons the Huskies lost those games, they were examples of a group that was not able to pick up for shortcomings elsewhere, and too often were a liability.
Part of the issues last year can be traced to K Travis Coons having to handle kickoffs, field goals and punts - not only did he have less time to focus on each particular task, he was likely wearing out. It was hoped that the addition of Van Winkle, the transfer of walk-on Zach Grossnickle and another year of experience for Durkee would mean that Coons wouldn't have to pull triple-duty this year. The verdict? Well, the jury is still out on that one. After some early struggles by both kickers (partly attributable to some struggles between the snapper and holder), Coons has emerged to win the placekicking job. Van Winkle will likely see action by handling kickoffs, with the hope that he can provide more consistency and distance than Coons was able to achieve.
At P, Durkee has flashed his big leg at times, but issues with his consistency and speed (he uses a 2-step drop) mean that Coons might again have to handle punting duties in addition to placekicking. Grossnickle provides insurance, but hasn't been able to beat out Durkee or Coons.
In the return game, the Huskies have a number of options. At PR, expect to see dynamic youngster Ross handle those duties, as he possesses great speed and terrific cutting ability. If he needs a breather or has issues hanging on to the ball, there are a number of other options, ranging from Mickens to Kasen Wiliams to Marvin Hall to even Shaq Thompson.
At KR it's an even harder call, with Mickens and Hall possibly the top two candidates. Other options include Kevin Smith, Ross, Jesse Callier, Antavius Sims, and - yes - Thompson. You could even see Marcus Peters, Sean Parker, Greg Ducre and Cleveland Wallace back deep.
An under rated aspect of the special teams play is the snapper and holder on kicks - after some issues early in camp, it appears that Ryan Masel is set as the long snapper with Durkee the holder.
With the coverage units, we won't really know until August 31st who the mainstays are and how they'll do, but the thinking here is that - as a reflection of improving quality depth throughout the roster - they too will look better.
Edit: The official depth chart has been released, and at PR Kasen is listed as an /OR with Ross, and at KR it's Ross and Smith.