With spring football just around the corner, here's a position-by-position look at the roster and what to expect over the next month

Sunday we get to the final segment of our spring preview series - Special Teams. Just a few hours more before the start of Washington Spring Football.

Frankly speaking, Chris Petersen and his staff don’t do a lot of actual ‘live’ special teams work. It’s a lot of teaching, with Petersen up front in center with the returners, but outside of a few reps there really isn’t much to chew on when it comes to the crucial third phase of play. 

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty going on; it’s just a lot harder to glamorize the building of a foundation until you see how well-made the rest of the structure on top.

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Position Group (By Class)

Cameron Van Winkle (5-10, 189, Sr.)

Tristan Vizcaino (6-2, 201, Jr.)

Luke Hutchison (6-2, 226, Jr.) *

A.J. Carty (6-2, 245, RFr.)

Sebastian Valerio (5-10, 180, RFr.) *

Van Soderberg (5-11, 199, Fr.)

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The Returners

When it comes to the kicking game, Washington has two of their three specialists from 2015 returning for this spring; Cameron Van Winkle and Tristan Vizcaino. Van Winkle was perfect on his PATs (50-50) and 80 percent on his field goal attempts (16-20), his season-long being a 49-yarder against Utah. Vizcaino made his only PAT attempt and missed his only field goal try. 

Vizcaino is also expected to handle the kickoff duties for the Huskies. Well over a third of his kickoffs ended up in touchbacks. 

In the return game, it’s fitting that UW ‘returns’ one of the most dangerous return men in the Pac-12, John Ross III. Ross, who was injured during spring ball last year, had the third-best season in Husky history in 2014 returning kicks. He had 38 returns for 938 yards. He also has three returns for touchdowns in his UW career. 

We’ll see how fit Ross is to work with the returners, but he should be paired with UW’s top kick returner from last season - Chico McClatcher. McClatcher had 23 returns for 539 yards and a long return of 56. 

For punt returns, Dante Pettis is the two-year incumbent - so it’s hard to imagine he’ll be supplanted any time soon. His 44 returns for 559 yards and three touchdowns in 2014 and 2015 have Pettis poised to break through into the UW record books if he has another productive season. He already owns the single-season all-time Husky mark for yards per return, with 16.9 yards per return last season. 

McClatcher worked as Pettis’s backup, coming up with six returns for 72 yards in 2015. 

Could Ross be involved in this battle? Possibly, but again it’ll depend on his health and how far they want to push him. Ross looked completely healthy running a hand-timed 4.25 40 at Washington’s Combine Day, but who knows how much work he’s expected to get.

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The New Guys

There are a couple of fresh faces at Montlake, specifically having to do with the punting battery. Outgoing senior punter Korey Durkee had one of the top-four all-time single seasons punting last year for the Huskies, so he will be a difficult piece to replace. 

True freshman Van Soderberg from Capital High in Olympia has enrolled early for spring football with one idea in mind; make sure he’s ready to pick up right where Durkee left off. Durkee averaged 43 yards per punt in 2015, so that will be a difficult chore to replicate. Soderberg averaged 39 yards per punt for Capital last year.

The same goes for redshirt frosh long snapper A.J. Carty, who is expected to step into the shoes left by four-year starter Ryan Masel.

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What Does Spring Mean For The Special Teams Unit?

For special teams, this spring will be key for Soderberg and Carty to get comfortable. They are the two biggest cogs in a successful punt, so getting the chemistry going early between the two will be essential. 

The only time you really notice is when issues are readily apparent, like botched snaps. It’s at that moment you understand how important long snappers are. That’s why nearly every long snapper at a BCS school is getting their education paid for. A bad snap could spell the difference between a win and a loss in a hotly-contested game, so Carty has to be on from Day One. The greatest compliment you can pay a long snapper is that you don’t notice them. That means they are doing their job. 

There will be some intrigue in the return game, but mostly to find out how much work Ross will get returning kicks. The coaches may not push him that fast right away. 

And there’s also the dynamic a new special teams coordinator - Bob Gregory - will bring to the unit, compared to the outgoing coordinator, Jeff Choate. Choate, who moved on to take the head coaching job at Montana State, was known for his occasional trick plays and attention to detail in all phases of special teams. They were in the top half of all special teams categories, save one - kickoff returns. 

There’s always room for improvement, and we’ll see how the identity of the special teams changes - if at all - under Gregory.

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Best Guess Spring Depth Chart 

Placekicker

Cameron Van Winkle (5-10, 189, Sr.)

Tristan Vizcaino (6-2, 201, Jr.)

Sebastian Valerio (5-9, 180, RF.)

Punter

Van Soderberg (5-11, 199, Fr.) OR

Tristan Vizcaino (6-2, 201, Jr.)

Kickoff

Tristan Vizcaino (6-2, 201, Jr.)

Van Soderberg (5-11, 199, Fr.)

Punt Return

Dante Pettis (6-1, 187, Jr.)

Chico McClatcher (5-7, 176, So.)

Kick Return

Chico McClatcher (5-7, 176, So.)

John Ross III (5-11, 196, Jr.)

Snapper

A.J. Carty (6-2, 245, RFr.)

Luke Hutchison (6-2, 226, Jr.)

Holder 

Jeff Lindquist (6-3, 244, Sr.)

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Spring Position Preview - Quarterbacks

Spring Position Preview - Running Backs

Spring Position Preview - Receivers

Spring Position Preview - Tight Ends

Spring Position Preview - Offensive Line

Spring Position Preview - Defensive Line

Spring Position Preview - Linebackers

Spring Position Preview - Defensive Backs


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