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Spring Position Preview: Special Teams

Dawgs Hope Stability Brings Success

Eastern Washington v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

For the latter part of the 2010s, the Washington Huskies were the envy of most of West Coast football. The team had a quiet, no nonsense leader who kept the focus off himself and allowed the stars to showcase their talent. Of course, I’m talking about the career of long snapper A.J. Carty.

In his years with the program, Carty was almost completely anonymous. That happens to be the best compliment you can pay to a position that only gets noticed when something goes horribly wrong. Carty’s graduation made way for Jaden Green, who was surprisingly highly-touted as a long-snapping prospect. Green immediately did what Carty avoided for his entire career- get noticed. His errant snap on a punt in the opener against Oregon State led to a Yakety Sax blooper reel that got on Sportscenter for all the wrong reasons. Fortunately, Green righted the ship over the remaining games with some minimally off-center snaps as his only other notable plays.

It might not be sexy to start a special teams preview with the long-snapper, but the rest of the spots seem relatively straight-forward for the 2021 Dawgs. O’Dea graduate Race Porter returns as the punter. Porter struggled with wobblers early in his career before he showed significant improvement in 2020. He averaged 42 yards on 10 tries and pinned opponents inside the 20 on three of those punts. He also improved his hangtime enough to yield three fair catches in those 10 tries. A year ago, I would have said that Porter represented a questionable spot on the depth chart. Now, he looks like a source of stability.

Stanford v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Peyton Henry brings similar predictability to the kicker position. Going into his senior season, we know precisely what Henry brings to the table. He will almost never miss field goals inside 40 yards and he will almost never make them outside that distance. He was 5/6 on the shorter kicks last year and 1/3 on the longer ones. I expect a similar rate (and no more than one or two missed PATs on the season) this year.

Henry’s weaker leg meant that Tim Horn took over kick offs in 2019 and he boomed most of them into the end zone. Horn took a step back in 2020 with touchbacks only six of 25 kickoffs. The drop-off was severe enough that many fans speculated whether he was dealing with a minor injury. Horn was bulked up to 220 lbs for 2021, so hopefully the added strength will bring back the touch backs. At 220, Horn is definitely verging into beefy kicker territory, but he has a way to go to join the position’s elite. As Seattle’s Sir Mix-a-lot might say, “220? Only if he’s 5’5”

The returner positions offer at least a bit of intrigue. Trent McDuffie emerged as the punt returner last season and did very well in limited opportunities. He appears to have the inside track to keep that job this year. Sean McGrew got the bulk of the kickoff returns in 2020. Kamari Pleasant and Cameron Davis each got one attempt, as well. We know that Kyler Gordon has game-breaking speed and athleticism, so it would not be surprising to see him get his hands on some kickoffs, too. Finally, recent rumblings have connected Michigan transfer Giles Jackson to the Dawgs and Jackson was a stand-out returner for the Wolverines. If he joins the team and can play in the fall, he would throw his name in this hat.