Washington football: Special teams preview

Finishing up positional previews for the Washington football team I will focus on the special teams as a whole. The Dawgs return a slew of capable return men, but with the departure of Travis Coons, finding a replacement for all of the kicking duties could be a struggle.

[Washington football: Previewing the secondary]

Last season everyone got to see the speed and explosiveness of freshman wide receiver John Ross throughout the season. Nevermore was this apparent than when Ross took a kick return over 100 yards for a touchdown against BYU in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which can be seen HERE.

Washington football

True freshman John Ross returning a kick against Oregon State

When Ross busts loose in the open field, he brings speed that makes other D1 athletes look like middle school track athletes who are only there because their parents made them sign up.

If Ross doesn’t take at least a couple of kicks back for touchdowns this year, I would honestly be surprised.

Ross could also see himself fielding some punt returns, but I don’t think he will be alone in those responsibilities. Given his involvement in the offense and potentially the defense, the staff may choose to save him some snaps on punt return.

That should open the door for veteran return-men Marvin Hall and Kasen Williams. Williams, having the safest hands on the team, should figure into the mix as the safety specialist. He’ll return punts near the goal line and make the decision whether to call for a fair catch or let it go out the back of the end zone.

[Washington football: Previewing the WR position]

Hall won’t be alone in competition. This Washington football team possesses many electric players up and down the roster, all vying for an opportunity to prove that they can make a play. Because of this, it is safe to say any number of players could emerge as the punt returner. Incoming freshman Budda Baker also looks like a favorite to return kicks and/or punts. His involvement, however, may be directly affected by his readiness to step into a starting role on the defense.

Kickoff, place kicking, and punting duties will all be up for grabs come fall camp with the departure of do-it-all (albeit with fairly mediocre results) kicking specialist Travis Coons. Cameron Van Winkle looks to be the favorite for kickoff duties, having handled it through the first five games of the season before injuring himself.

Van Winkle will have some competition for the role of place kicker with the addition of highly touted incoming freshman Tristan Vizcaino. Vizcaino also comes in as an established punter and will contend for punting duties with junior Korey Durkee. Durkee has experience at the position, getting reps as a freshman against San Diego State and LSU before relinquishing the duties to Coons.

It will be hard to say who will step up and claim each role within the kicking unit until all of them get to camp and prove their strengths. It should be noted that if Coach Petersen wishes to add some trick play wrinkles into the special team unit, Durkee and Vizcaino appear to be interesting prospects, standing 6-foot-4, 230-pounds and 6-foot-2, 210-pounds respectively.

The success of Washington football in 2014 very well could be affected by the kicking unit’s ability to step in and make big plays. The Huskies’ defense should be one of the best in the nation. That should lead to the offense being in favorable positions on the field. All of that hard work will be for naught if this group of kickers are unable to knock home field goals and pin opposing offenses deep with key punts. If the kicking unit steps up and makes the plays asked of them, they could elevate both the Husky offense and defense to even greater heights this season.

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