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UW Fall Camp Preview - Special Teams

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The second-to-last preview looks at the special teams at Washington for 2014. Strength, weakness, and does it really matter?

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

7/26:  Quarterbacks (Kirk DeGrasse)

7/27: Defensive Backs (Brad Johnson)

7/28:  Running Backs (Ryan Priest)

7/29:  Defensive Line (Jesse Kennemer)

7/30:  Linebackers (Ryan Priest)

7/31:  Receivers (Chris Landon)

8/1:  Offensive Line (Kirk DeGrasse)

8/2:  Special Teams (Brad Johnson)

8/3:  Coaches (Chris Landon)

Who's Gone (3)

Punting

Travis Coons: 62 kicks, 40.4 ave, 2 touchbacks, 23 kicks inside the 20, 8 kicks 50+ yds

Kicking

Travis Coons: 15-16 FG's, 62-63 PAT's, 57 K0's, 8 touchbacks

Returns

Kevin Smith: 5 KR Returns, 16.0 Ave

While I thought Travis Coons would be a great loss from 2013 heading into the 2014 season, Anthony Cassino made a great point in his Better/Worse/Neutral series regarding special teams. While Coons was nearly automatic in the kicking game for the Dawgs in 2013, he didn't have a single "pressure kick" in 2013. I'm not trying to downplay what he did by any stretch, because it's very comforting to know that your placekicker is going to nail any field goal and extra point he's faced with over the course of the season, but it made me feel a lot more confident moving forward when you realistically take into account that Coons essentially made practice kicks over and over (and over, and over, and over) when games weren't really decided by what he did. I commend his effort, especially considering the facts that he was 6-7 from kicks beyond 40 yards, and that he largely pulled triple duty for a second straight year, but the Huskies should be able to replicate what he did every year, especially when you consider that they have three kickers on scholarship. In all honesty, the best thing about Coons' season in 2013 is that he had more PAT's and field goals combined than he did punts. The Huskies scored points. Kevin Smith had shown flashes as a return man prior to last season, but he was mostly an afterthought in 2013.

Key Returners

Cameron Van Winkel: 33 KO's, 11 TB's

John Ross: 31 KR's, 23.2 Ave, 1 TD, 4 PR, 5.2 Ave,

Marvin Hall: 5 PR, 9.4 Ave

Korey Durkee: no stats

Both Durkee and Van Winkle were prep All-Stars at their positions, but both have struggled to lock down roles at Washington. For Durkee, it's been speeding up his delivery to contend with Pac 12 rushes, while Van Winkle has had a back injury that has kept him from meeting his enormous potential. By all accounts, both have kicked fairly well this spring, but neither has locked down a job for this season. Van Winkle outkicked Coons last year by an extremely small margin, but his injury mid-season kept him from cementing the kickoff role.

John Ross is fast. This isn't news to any Husky fans that watched him be oh-so-close to breaking a kick return last season before finally getting all the way home against BYU in the bowl game. But nearly equally as quick is Marvin Hall, and after putting a bad mistake against Oregon in 2012 behind him, flashed the most potential to make the punt return game a bona fide weapon heading in o 2014. Even with the speed both posses, the return game simply was never really a weapon for the Huskies under Sarkisian. Ross' 23-yard average return is a very pedestrian number, and the fact that the Huskies only had 14 total punt returns in 2013 says that the team was probably a little too willing to simply fair catch the ball.

Two other players worth mentioning are Danny Shelton and Darrell Daniels. Shelton managed to block two kicks from the interior of the defensive line (including one against Petersen's BSU team). While Daniels was only credited with 3 tackles for the season, he was fairly dynamic in coverage, often the first guy down the field throwing his body into blockers with reckless abandon.

Newcomers (1):

Tristan Vizcaino - 3*

Vizcaino was the 5th-rated punter and 4th-rated kicker by Chris Sailor, who is basically the prep kicking guru. Vizcaino will almost undoubtedly be given the chance to compete with both Durkee and Van Winkle for the open kicking spots. Vizcaino doesn't have the same reputation for leg strength as either of the two purported starters, but I'd be willing to wager the coaching staff will sacrifice some power in the name of consistency if he can deliver.

Chris Petersen has already said that Budda Baker will get an early look as a return man, and it wouldn't be surprising if a couple of the other incoming freshmen do as well.

Analysis and Closing Thoughts

It would be generous to call the Huskies' special teams anything but mediocre the past five seasons. While they had a handful of good kickers and punters in that time, the coverage and return games were largely abysmal. The fact that most of the special teams units were filled with starter suggests that the issue wasn't a matter of the talent on the field, but that the Dawgs were poorly coached. Under Chris Petersen, Boise State's special teams were usually solid, if not a strength. Defensive line coach Jeff Choate will also handle the coordination of special teams, and he can add a great deal of value to the team if he can simply get fundamental play from the coverage units in particular.

Van Winkle's back injury was a source of concern the last half of 2013 through the offseason. He appeared to be healthy, and mostly kicked well this spring. Even though he had more touchbacks on fewer attempts than did Coons, he still didn't put the ball into the end zone on kickoffs as much as fans would like to see. Hopefully, he's healthy enough to show off the leg strength he exhibited in high school.

Durkee is also known to have a strong leg, but his approach has simply been too slow and he's a significant risk to have kicks blocked. Word is that he's sped it up while redshirting in 2013. If that's the case, he's a legitimate threat to top Kiel Rasp's school record for single season punting average.

After such lackluster special teams play from the Huskies the last several seasons, there's really no place to go but up for the Dawgs in 2014.