Special teams have not been very special under Tyrone Willingham, and he did something about it this off season when he fired his special teams coach. To be fair there was improvement last season, and a lot of the improvement that comes from special teams has a lot to do with quality depth that is ready to play and contribute.
The Huskies kicked the ball just OK last year. Perkins was good from short range in the FG/PAT department, and Ballman had the best year most of us remember from a punter in quite some time.
This Spring the kicking game was troubling. Perkins is in obvious pain every time he kicks the ball, and every kick is a tick against the clock of his career. If the Huskies are going to improve this season Erik Folk needs to make a move to take over the position. While Perkins proved to be accurate at short distances last season, his range is even more limited this year. It is time for Folk to step up and put the 40 yard or longer FG back into the Husky lexicon.
Ballman didn't look great this past Spring, but it seems to be a trend for him, he didn't look good last year until the games started. He responded by being one of the better punters in the league last year. We have had guys that have kicked longer, so long that they out kicked coverages, but Ballman did a great job of putting the ball almost exactly where you wanted every single time. You have to love that consistency.
The Huskies hope walk on Kiel Rasp from Nathan Hale continues to develop behind Ballman so they can use the scholarship elsewhere.
P Ballman Sr
P Rasp RS
PK Perkins Jr
PK Folk Rs
When it comes to returning the football from the goal line Washington was unable to find a new stud last year, so Louis Rankin took the job back over despite being the full time tailback. Rankin was one of the better return men in the conference, and replacing him won't be easy. This spring Curtis Shaw, and Chris Polk, were among the favorites to earn the job in 2008. Both are among the fastest most wiggly guys on the team. Polk has even been compared to Reggie Bush. Husky coaches want to get the ball in Polk's hands next season in as many ways as possible.
Anthony Russo was the guy returning punts last season. He had sure enough hands, but he lacked that extra step to be a consistent return threat. This season the job is wide open once again, and will be missing experienced hands to field the football. Polk, Shaw, and Goodwin seem to be the guys that will compete for the spot. Goodwin had the best hands coming out of Spring, so with his blazing speed perhaps he is possibly the guy.
All of our return guys have the ability to take it to the house, and it will be exciting to see more of that dimension return in 2008.
KR C. Polk Fr
KR Shaw So
PR C. Polk Fr
PR Shaw So
PR D'Andre Goodwin So
Stopping the oppositions return game has been a total thorn in the side of this team under Willingham. If you can drop punt returners in their tracks, and make teams start from inside their 30 yard line when you kick off you are doing your defense, and team a favor.
One thing that really helps in this area is fresh players going up against the oppositions tired players. Washington has been on the opposite side of that equation for most of the decade, and if they are going to achieve the goal of making a bowl game they need to make dramatic improvement here.
Quality depth, and team speed is the key here, and Washington has been developing some quality young depth to help out. The second year players who sat out last season, and the newcomers that play this year are going to be counted on to shore up this area.
When your special teams start making big plays everything starts turning around for you.
What do back up QB's do when they are not holding a clipboard? Well the good hands guys are holding on FG's. Ronnie Fouch assumes the role this year from the graduated Carl Bonnell. Bonnell was a very good holder, while Fouch still has some work to do to get his proficiency up. Snapping to him will be a kid that will play on Sundays in Danny Morovick. the NFL puts a premium, on kids that can snap, and Morovick who continues to muscle up is one of the best.
H Fouch RS
S Morovick Jr
Don James said Special Teams play contributes nearly one third to the total outcome of any game. UW hasn't been winning many special teams battles, and it shows in the W-L column. Last years fourth quarter loss to UCLA was precipitated by special team collapses brought on by exhaustion, and inexperience which has a lot to do with depth. Gassed players don't make great plays in the 4th quarter.
Quality depth, team speed, and coaching are the three factors that makes special teams special. Washington has improved in all three area's since last season, so I expect a better overall performance in 2008. Experience is lacking at all skill positions despite the overall talent upgrade. Some young guys are going to need to step up to the plate in 2008.
Willingham is still a year away from refilling his cupboard. He only has 19 players from his first two classes on the roster. The majority of talent the has stockpiled has been in the last two classes.
If Locker is around for his senior year UW will seriously contend for a BCS bowl in 2010.
What we have in 2008 is Jake the sophomore surrounded by better talent, and almost no game day experience at the skill positions. It is year four and this team is still rebuilding. Next years class, and the experience the previous two classes get this season will make this team seriously start contending in 2009.
It all comes together with experience, and this years young players are going to get plenty of it in 2008.