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Washington Football 2016 Fall Camp Preview: Special Teams

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The Huskies were in three one-possession games last season, and won precisely zero of them. A strong cast of returning special teams stars could change that in 2016.

NCAA Football: Washington at Hawaii Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, three of Washington’s games — at Boise State, versus Cal, and at Oregon — were decided by a single possession. Unsurprisingly for a team starting three true freshmen at key positions on the offense, the Huskies went 0-3 in those games. If the Huskies are to live up to their massively mounting preseason expectations, they will need to show marked improvement in their ability to pull out close wins. While Jake Browning, Budda Baker and the rest of Washington’s offensive and defensive players will of course be vital to that effort, close games are when special teams players get their opportunity to shine. Today, we examine who the Huskies have on their roster for the 2016 season in those key positions.

The Players

Jersey Name Position Height Weight Year
49 A.J. Carty Long snapper 6-2 245 Redshirt freshman
51 Luke Hutchison Long snapper 6-2 226 Junior (walk-on)
42 Van Soderberg Punter/Place kicker 5-11 199 Freshman
48 Cameron Van Winkle Place kicker 5-10 189 Senior
81 Sebastian Valerio Place kicker 5-9 180 Redshirt freshman (walk-on)
43 Tristan Vizcaino Punter/Place kicker 6-2 201 Junior
1 John Ross III Kick returner 5-11 196 Junior
13 Chico McClatcher Kick returner 5-7 176 Sophomore
8 Dante Pettis Punt returner 6-1 187 Junior

Chris Petersen’s primary task on special teams will be replacing two-year starting punter Korey Durkee, whose career average of 41.8 yards per punt ranks third all-time at UW. To that end, the coaches recruited Van Soderberg as a potential replacement to play as as true freshman, but the scuttlebutt out of spring practices is that Soderberg’s adjustment to the college game has been somewhat less than ideal. In particular, Dawgman.com’s Chris Fetters has reported that Soderberg is having trouble adjusting to a one-step delivery on his kicks. If he is not ready to go as the team’s starting punter by Sept. 3 when the Huskies take the field against Rutgers, expect to see him sit out 2016 and come back next season as a redshirt freshman. In that scenario, Tristan Vizcaino will likely become the team’s go-to punter, as he is the only specialist on the roster who has game experience at that position.

Speaking of Vizcaino, he will presumably continue to handle duties as the team’s first-string kickoff specialist after being responsible for 76 of Washington 79 kickoffs in 2015. Vizcaino averaged 61.8 yards per kickoff and recorded touchbacks on 35.5 percent of his kicks, en route to earning all-conference honorable mention recognition.

Regarding place kicking responsibilities, Cameron Van Winkle made 15 of his 19 field goal attempts in 2015, including a 49-yard boot against Utah. That being said, Van Winkle missed the one field goal attempt he made last year in a high-pressure situation when he pushed his 46-yard try that would have sent the Huskies into overtime against Boise State just a few feet to the right, and he’ll no doubt be hungry to avenge that miss. And scholarship long snapper A.J. Carty is the favorite to replace Ryan Masel, who graduated last year after handling virtually all of Washington’s long snapping duties since 2012.

In the return game, the Huskies will feature arguably the most dangerous kickoff returner in the Pac-12, and possibly the country, in John Ross III. Ross is the owner of two 100-yard scores (there exist only five in Washington’s entire history) on kick returns, and clocked a 4.25-second 40-yard-dash (hand-timed) at last spring’s Husky Combine event. When the Dawgs run two-returner sets, Ross will be joined by fellow speedy receiver Chico McClatcher, who scored four touchdowns last season on just 27 total touches as a true freshman. Finally, Dante Pettis will be the team’s primary punt returner for the third consecutive year; over the course of his first two seasons, he averaged 12.7 yards per return and has accounted for three touchdowns on punt returns.