The special teams unit was one of the most aggravating elements of last year’s UW team for Husky fans and seems like it should be one of the easier units to fix. With painful memories still fresh in fans’ minds, the kicking and punting games, in particular, will receive their share off attention during the spring.
- Peyton Henry, So.
- Tim Horn, Fr.
- Van Soderberg,, Jr.
Henry handled both place-kicking and kickoff duties last year and was not notably successful in either area. While he was reasonably accurate on his field goals (16-22, 73%), he was so limited in his distance that field goals weren’t even a consideration until the offense got very near the red zone. Even though Henry was generally successful inside 40 yards (15-19), his high-profile miss to cost UW the game against Oregon was enough to tarnish his reputation for most fans.
Henry was arguably even worse in the kickoff game. While a place kicker can get by with accuracy and average leg strength, the key skill on kickoffs is to boot the ball as far as possible. Henry converted a miserly 33% of his kickoffs into touchbacks, which left ample opportunities for opponents to run back kicks. In total, S&P+ rated the Huskies as 95th in the country in FG value per kick and 97th in kickoff efficiency.
Horn enters the program with the best pedigree of any recent Huskies kicker. He was rated among the best in the country by kicking guru Chris Sailer. According to Sailer, Horn can make field goals out to 55 yards and can consistently deliver touchbacks. Even if the coaching staff opts for the predicable decency of Henry on field goals, it would be hard to deny someone with a big leg like Horn on kickoffs, which makes him likely to see the field as a true freshman.
Van Soderberg remains on scholarship, but has not seen game action since struggling against Arizona St in 2017. It’s difficult to see a path back to playing time for him.
- Joel Whitford, Sr.
- Race Porter, Jr.
For anyone who watched Whitford and Porter kick last year, it’s surprising that Porter actually averaged more yards per punt (41.9 to 41.3) with his wounded duck wobblers. Of course, there’s more to punting than just kicking it as far as possible. Whitford averaged much better hang time, which led to more fair catches (37% to 6%) and an additional 5.7 net yards per punt. Like the kicking game, the punting stats graded out as well below-average (86th in the country), but Porter’s poor results pulled down Whitford’s respectability when he was injured.
With a healthy Whitford, the Huskies should be average or better in the punting game. The next question will be how to replace Whitford after this season. Can Porter improve his hang-time to seize the job as a senior? Is Soderberg’s scholarship salvageable as a punter? Could Horn reprise the double duty role he held down in high school? Will the Huskies offer a scholarship to an incoming punter for next season? With few questions going into this year, we can let our minds wander further into the future.
- Sean McGrew, Jr.
- Chico McClatcher, Sr.
- Aaron Fuller, Sr.
- Salvon Ahmed, Jr.
One consequence of fielding an outstanding defense is relatively few chances to return kickoffs. After removing touchbacks and onside kicks, the Huskies only returned 15 kickoffs all year and they rated 97th nationally in kick return efficiency (a mirror image of the poor kickoff ranking). McGrew handled a majority of the kicks with eight returns, but never took one longer than 25 yards and averaged only 16.2 yards per return. Ahmed only returned one kick all year, but it was the team’s longest at 31 yards.
Ahmed’s explosiveness would be a welcome addition to the regular kick return rotation. If McClatcher returns to the team fully healthy, he would be another solid option. McGrew looks like he should be an effective kick returner with his shiftiness and elusiveness, but last year’s numbers were so poor that he would need to improve substantially to get to average. Fuller returned punts last year, so it’s possible that he could slide into this unit with Myles Gaskin out of the picture. Younger players like Trey Lowe and Kyler Gordon also profile as quick-cut athletes who could excel in this role.
- Aaron Fuller, Sr.
- Chico McClatcher, Sr.
The successes and failures of the punt return game look much like the rest of the special teams divisions- few glaring mistakes, but conservative to a fault. Fuller seemingly won the job because he had the surest hands and was unlikely to muff many points. While he accomplished that goal, he did so little once the ball was in his hands (5.5 yards per return) that the Huskies were an abysmal 124th in punt return efficiency.
Fuller is back for this year, so we might see more of the same. He fair caught a huge percentage of punts last year, so even a psychological tweak to be more aggressive could help improve the team’s output. Otherwise, a healthy McClatcher or one of the younger options might be able to supply some fireworks to this phase of the game. Based on what we know about the coaching staff, it’s unlikely they will take any big risks in this area. The most likely path to improvement is for Fuller to simply become more assertive without taking unnecessary chances with the ball.
- A.J. Carty, Sr.
- Luke Lane, Jr.
Most fans probably don’t know Carty’s name. Heading into his third season as the team’s exclusive long snapper, Carty deserves credit for remaining anonymous. It’s a position that only gets attention when things go wrong. Carty hasn’t received much attention in his career, ergo, he’s a success story.