Almost every element of Washington football has improved substantively and dramatically in Chris Petersen’s tenure as coach. One area where that has not been the case is special teams. Even in the midst of a three-year run to New Year’s Day bowl games, the Husky special teams units ranked near the bottom of the country in every meaningful statistical category. Being among the worst in the country is obviously a bad thing, but on the bright side, perhaps it can be low-hanging fruit for rapid improvement. After all, it should be easier to go from bad to average on special teams than from good to great in most other areas.
|Peyton Henry||5'11||195||So (wo)|
If you squint, you can see a case for optimism in Peyton Henry’s 2018 season. He made a very respectable 73% of his FGs, he was consistent on PATs, and he rarely made glaring mistakes in the kickoff game. Anyone who watched Henry, or took a closer look at the stats, knows that this optimistic view requires some very rosy glasses. Henry had a bizarro Heisman moment when he shanked the game-winning field goal against Oregon, but the problems went deeper than one play. He made exactly one field goal over 40 yards on the season and secured touchbacks on a very poor 33% of his kickoffs. While accurate, Henry does not have the leg strength to be a major college kicker. The results were poor: S&P+ rated the Huskies 95th and 97th in the country in FG value and kickoff efficiency, respectively.
Henry has a valid challenger in freshman Tim Horn, who has a better reputation than any specialist recruit the Huskies have secured in at least a decade. Nobody knows high school kickers better than Chris Sailer, and Sailer effusively praised Horn’s ability to make field goals out to 55 yards and consistently reach the end zone for touchbacks. Due to Henry’s consistency on short kicks, we might see a job share where Horn takes over kickoffs and long field goal attempts. Don’t expect to see Soderberg in the mix after his 2017 meltdown. If he finds his way back onto the field, it will more likely be as a punter.
|Race Porter||6'2||185||Jr (wo)|
There is more reason to believe in the status quo of the punting game than the placekicking game. Whitford was solidly average when healthy and in the lineup. The unit took a hit when Porter and his knuckleball punts had to take over, but how many teams really have an exceptional backup punter? The biggest difference between the two is Whitford’s ability to generate hang time. The higher punts allow the coverage team to get downfield and force fair catches 37% of the time compared to 6% of the time on Porter’s punts, which translated into a 5.7 net yardage advantage for Whitford.
The coaching staff seems to have a similar point of view based on their recruiting strategy. With Whitford a senior, they could bank on Porter or Soderberg to replace him next year. Instead, they secured the commitment of the top junior college punter in the country, Triston Brown, out of California. The Huskies are long on scholarship kickers and punters, but Petersen correctly identified the need to improve the talent level and appears to have done so with Horn and Brown.
|Chico McClatcher||5'8||175||Sr (rs)|
The Huskies did not have an explosive kick return unit in 2018. Sean McGrew returned more kicks than any other Dawg and never took one more than 25 yards. Salvon Ahmed had the team’s longest return of the year, a modest 31-yarder, on his only return of the season. Aaron Fuller was the team’s primary punt returner, so he could conceivably return kickoffs. Since his greatest strength in the punt return game seems to be his sure hands, he might not be the most natural fit here. Instead, there might be room for a younger player like Kyler Gordon to force his way into the mix. Gordon was an excellent kick returner in high school and has the type of outrageous athleticism that could spring him to some big returns. McClatcher had some success in the return game in previous years. If he has fully recovered from his injury, he will be near the front of the line for opportunities here. Trey Lowe is another name to watch as a possible candidate. One thing to keep in mind is that the Husky defense has been so strong in recent years that there haven’t been all that many kick return opportunities.
|Chico McClatcher||5'8||175||Sr (rs)|
Fuller was about as bad in punt returning last year as a player can be without muffing the ball. Fuller was the primary returner for a unit that ranked 124th in punt return efficiency. The problem was that Fuller was simply too conservative in his decisions to fair catch or let punts roll. It was an issue all year and the coaching staff kept Fuller taking punts, so it would be mildly surprising to see another punt returner taking over here. Hopefully, Fuller will show more willingness to take the available yards rather than standing still.
|A.J. Carty||6'3||245||Sr (wo)|
|Luke Lane||6'0||204||Jr (wo)|
Husky fans haven’t had much reason to think about the long snapper position in recent years. Let’s keep it that way.
Which Kicker Will Lead UW in FG Attempts
This poll is closed