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Washington Huskies Football 2017 Preview Better/Worse/Neutral: Punting and Kicking

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A new role for a vetran and an old role for a rookie.

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

This topic really only involves three players on, or formerly on the Huskies’ roster. Those three players are place kicker Cameron Van Winkle (graduated), place kicker/punter Tristan Vizcaino (Sr.) and punter Joel Whitford (So.). While there are other kicking and punting specialists on the roster, this group comprises last season's starters and this season's projected starters.

Last Season

Cameron Van Winkle graduates as the second most accurate and third highest scoring kicker in school history. He had a career field-goal percentage of .812 and last season finished with a .8 (16/20) field-goal percentage. Van Winkle was a good college kicker, but he was limited to field goals and PATs, while Vizcaino served as the team’s kickoff specialist and punter. Vizcaino has been the Dawgs' kickoff specialist for the past three seasons and added punting to his repertoire last season. After adjusting to the rugby style of punting, he proved to be a solid punter for the Huskies, averaging 40.7 yards per punt. That was good for 8th best in the Pac-12. In 103 kickoffs last season, he averaged a touchback 37.86% of the time, which again is the 8th best in the Pac-12. Also of note, he was in a three-way tie for the most kickoffs that went out-of-bounds with 4.

This Season

If you’ve been following either spring or fall camps closely, you’ve most likely heard about the Huskies’ new Australian punter Joel Whitford. Whitford is a 23-year-old sophomore transfer from Santa Barbara City College. By all accounts, the dude can kick (punt) the crap out of the football. He comes from the same Australian program that produced the last two Ray Guy award winners, Utah’s Tom Hackett (2014 & 2015) and Mitch Wishnowsky (2016). Coach Pete has long preferred the “rugby-style” punt, as it is typically harder to defend against and catch. Everyone who’s seen him punt in practice has been raving about how the ball comes off his foot, to the extent that it’s apparently been giving Sr. punt returner Dante Pettis trouble. The word “weapon” has been repeatedly used to describe Whitford and his punting abilities. It appears to be a sure thing that he’ll take over the starting punting job this season.

With Whitford taking over the punting role, that allows Vizcaino to focus solely on place kicking, including adding field goals and PATs to his responsibilities. He’s got a powerful enough leg to cover the distances involved, but is he accurate? Initial reports out of fall camp are that he looks good and those in the know seem confident in his abilities. Only time will tell if he can live up to the high bar set by Van Winkle.

Better, Worse or Neutral?

Neutral seems to be the most appropriate choice given the information at hand. Vizcaino has room to improve on kickoffs from last season, but is also taking over field goals and PATs from one of the best kickers in school history. It might be a lot to assume that he can be as good as Van Winkle, but my guess is he’ll be at least league average in terms of field-goal percentage. Perhaps a step forward in kickoffs and a step back in field goals is to be expected.

Despite the hype around Whitford, I won’t be convinced of his punting talents until we see repeated success in a D1 game. That said, if he is truly the weapon that people think he is, Whitford could provide a big step up in the Huskies' punting game. Again, we’ll have to wait and see on this one too. I’m optimistic, but neutral is the call.

Poll

Will punting and kicking be better, worse or neutral in 2017 compared to 2016?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Better
    (211 votes)
  • 13%
    Worse
    (56 votes)
  • 37%
    Neutral
    (162 votes)
429 votes total Vote Now