Spring Battles to Watch - Special Teams

Last season, Washington added two specialists as both Korey Durkee and Travis Coons arrived in the summer. This year, they will add another player to mix in Mount Si (Snoqualmie, Wa.) K Cameron Van Winkle who will enroll later this month and that is when the real kicking and punting battles will begin...

K/P Travis Coons Sr 6-2, 205
P Korey Durkee So 6-4, 225
K Cameron Van Winkle Fr 5-11, 170

WR Kevin Smith Sr 5-11, 213
RB Jesse Callier RS Jr 5-11, 210
CB Marcus Peters RS So 5-11, 194
WR Marvin Hall So 5-10, 181
WR Jaydon Mickens So 5-10, 170
LB Shaquille Thompson So 6-2, 225

"Special" Teams: Over the past decade, the Husky special teams have largely been anything but special. The return teams have been awful and the coverage teams have been worse. As Steve Sarkisian and the rest of the staff have improved the overall team speed, things have gotten better, to the point where now every kickoff return by an opponent doesn't look like it could go the distance. However, things still could be much, much better and that is where players like Thompson and fellow linebackers like Princeton Fuimaono, Scott Lawyer, Evan Zeger among others can really help matters.

Last season, the coverage teams allowed opponents to start on their 27 yard line on average while the Huskies' average starting point was their own 25.

Coons or Van Winkle, whoever wins the kickoff chores between those two, can help matters by getting the ball into the endzone on a much more regular basis.

Punt coverage was good for the most part, but the Huskies did allow two punts to be taken back for touchdowns and that is something that definitely cannot happen in 2013.

Many happy returns: Washington's search for a dynamic punt and kickoff returner continues, but if his freshman year is any indication, Hall could be the guy to watch this fall. He's got explosive speed, but he appeared tentative at times and that didn't allow him to really cut loose. His fumble against Oregon broke open what was a tight game against the Ducks and after that we didn't see much more of him. If he can get his confidence back as well as gain the coaches' trust again, he could very well be a very intriguing player on special teams this fall.

If Hall doesn't grab the job as the main return man, there are plenty of guys back this spring who will battle for reps including Smith, Peters and Mickens.

Smith always seems to be on the cusp of breaking a long one while Mickens has that quick-twitch athleticism you like to see in your returners.

Thompson went back to receive a few kickoffs during the season as well, but it's highly unlikely he will see much more than an occassional opportunity to get back there to return kicks.

The real wild card is Peters who was a game-breaking punt returner in high school -- he took eight punts back for scores -- but his value to the team might be too high on defense, so it will be interesting to see if he gets any opportunities to return kicks or punts.

Who kicks and who punts?: This will be a very interesting spring with the addition of Van Winkle who will enroll in time to take part in the final nine practices of spring ball.

Van Winkle has a huge, accurate leg and if he wins the kicking duties, Coons could then move over to punter.

Coons hit on 9 of his 14 kicks, but he had two huge misses that would have given Washington wins in their final two games. Now, the Husky coaches and players will all tell you that those two games (the Apple Cup and the MAACO Bowl) were not just lost on his two kicks, but from a points perspective, if Coons hits those two very makeable kicks, the Huskies finish the season 9-4 and we would be talking about an entirely different scenario this season.

That being said, Coons did move over to take on the punting duties once Durkee was put into mothballs for the season and he averaged 39.8 yards per punt while dropping 15 of his 54 punts inside the 20 and booming six of them for over 60 yards.

Durkee has the leg to be an NFL punter, but to say he was inconsistent would be an understatement. He might boom a kick 60 or 70 yards and then shank one for 15. He needs to be much more consistent, both with his mechanics and with his drops. The coaches have worked with him quite a bit and it will be interesting to see where things are for him, both mentally and mechanically, during the spring.

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