Spring Preview – The Special teams

Special teams have been a nightmare at times for Washington. Speed, attitude, and accountability are the three areas where covering kicks and returning them become crucial. The Huskies have had too many punts blocked, too many poor snaps, and not enough big returns to help them with field position over the past few seasons.

Getting speed onto the field for the return and cover teams is paramount to improvement. Washington did address that with their most current recruiting class, as they are bringing in some real burners that will make an immediate contribution to these areas. However, guys like Derrick Bradley (4.36 40), Cody Ellis (4.34), Durrell Moss (4.45), Quintin Daniels (4.35), Louis Rankin (4.38), and CJ Wallace (4.40) won't arrive until fall camp begins. Until then, the answers have to come from within.

Last year one of the most pleasant surprises was the emergence of Eric Roy on special teams. He had a huge play in the Apple Cup and was graded very well in several other games. Roy's discovery by the coaching staff almost came by accident, as Rick Neuheisel had to scan his roster for walk-ons that could take to the field for kickoff cover teams to fill in for injured starters. Roy burst onto the scene and now appears to be a fixture on special teams.

"We want to find more guys like that, and not out of necessity to injury," said Neuheisel earlier last week. "We need to find guys that can run, fly around, and make things happen. We need to have special teams become more of a weapon for us."

The top return man on both kickoffs and punts is Charles Frederick (6-0 190 junior). Charles was named to the freshman All-American team in 2001, but never quite got untracked last year. He is physically bigger now, and took basketball season off to let his body heal and become stronger. Expect big things from "ET." Next to him will likely be Nate Robinson (5-9 180 sophomore). Robinson rarely got to touch the ball last year, but he is as explosive as they come and can make people miss if given the opportunity.

Depending on how his shoulder is doing, Roc Alexander (6-0 190 senior) has some experience returning kickoffs and could be used there. He is the fastest man on the football team, having once clocked a 4.2 in the 40 when he was healthy. After a shoulder surgery, it's hard to determine whether or not Roc can withstand the punishment of returning kicks, as well as his cornerback duties.

Before injuring his foot, Derrick Johnson (5-11 186 junior) was the biggest home run threat the Huskies had on kickoff returns. Johnson has regained his speed now and could definitely be inserted next to Frederick if the need arose. Johnson loves to use his old high school tailback skills when he gets the ball in his hands. If his foot cooperates, he could definitely provide a spark.

Another guy that looks like he's making a difference on special teams is Joseph Lobendahn (5-10 235 junior), a linebacker that can explode down the field. And once he gets his hands on you, you go down.

With Wilbur Hooks departing, the Huskies lose the guy that has been the "gunner" for the past four seasons. Look for guys like Matthew Fountaine(5-11 190 freshman) and Jordan Slye (6-5 190 freshman) to make noise on kickoff and punt coverage teams. Both run well and make things happen when they come into range of the football.

If you are looking for speed, look no further than Shelton Sampson (5-10 180 freshman) and Chris Singleton (6-1 210 junior). Both are sub 4.4 guys that should be able to make plays if they are given the proper assignments. These are the type of athletes that you need to get onto the field, particularly when you are attempting to make your special teams a weapon.

Elliott Zajac graduates as the place kick snapper, and the Dawgs will take a look at Will Conwell, Tim Galloway, and probably even Owen Biddle. All three can deep snap well. On punts, Ben Mahdavi will no longer be snapping the ball so look once again for Galloway or Conwell to step up and compete for that job.

Cody Pickett returns as the holder, a job he's held for four years.

Neither starting kicker will be on campus this spring, so Washington will have to practice with walk ons in both the placekicking and punting roles. With true freshman Michael Braunstein handling the kickoff and field goal chores and fellow rookie Sean Douglas being brought in to punt from day one, the kicking game for the Huskies will be as young as it's been at any time in recent history. Until they arrive, look for Evan Knudson to do place kicks and Ricardo Dovalle to punt for the time being. Knutsen didn't show a lot of leg strength but he was accurate whenever he got the chance last year in practice.

This is an area where Washington needs to make strides. The special teams play in the Apple Cup was outstanding, and should be the benchmark for next year's squad. If they can get coverage and return efforts like they did against WSU for the balance of an entire season, they'll win some games on that alone. With two freshman kickers, it will certainly provide some margin for error, at the very least.

Here is what the special teams are likely to be come fall:
PK Michael Braunstein (5-8 170, freshman)
P Sean Douglas (6-1 195, freshman)
KOR Nate Robinson (5-9 180 sophomore)
KOR Charles Frederick (6-0 190 junior)
PR Charles Frederick.
Link to Offense Part I: The Offensive Line
Link to Offense Part II: The Receivers
Link to Offense Part III: The Offensive Backfield
Link to Defense Part I: The Defensive Line
Link to Defense Part II: The Linebackers
Link to Defense Part III: The Secondary

next up – interviews with Offensive Coordinator Keith Gilbertson and Co-defensive coordinators Tim Hundley and Phil Snow.

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