Sarkisian wants special teams to be special again

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comAugust 23, 2013 

SEATTLE — Glaring errors from last season stand out.

Turnovers in the red zone. Busted coverages. Negatives as apparent as an open sore.

There was also a subtle season-changer with 4:09 remaining in the Las Vegas Bowl with Washington up 26-25 and the eight-win mark seeming more likely than not.

That’s when Boise State returner Shane Williams-Rhodes – whose four earlier returns totaled 88 yards, a 22-yard average – put together a 47-yard effort to put the Broncos at UW’s 42-yard line.

Senior safety Justin Glenn had a chance to make the tackle earlier in the return. He missed, and Williams-Rhodes zipped up the sideline positioning Boise State for the win.

“We had one of our best tacklers, especially on kickoffs, in position to make the play,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. “They had a really good returner who made him miss. Football happens. When they’re physical errors, I can live with it. That wasn’t somebody out of alignment or going around a block.”

The Broncos managed just 32 more yards in 10 plays, but that was enough to line up kicker Michael Frisna for a 27-yard field-goal that ended up the winning score.

That wasn’t the only instance of special teams biting Washington. In the same game, Travis Coons missed a 41-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Weeks earlier he missed a chip shot from 35 yards that would have won the Apple Cup.

Washington was ninth in kickoff coverage in the Pacific-12 Conference last season. The Huskies were seventh in kick-return average, primarily using a combination of Jaydon Mickens and Marvin Hall on kickoffs.

The departed Cody Bruns and Hall handled punt returns.

Sarkisian says now he thinks the team has the makeup to be potent in the return game and in special teams on the whole. Freshman wide receiver John Ross put together an electric punt return during a scrimmage this fall that had Sarkisian referencing Reggie Bush. Of course, that’s just practice early in fall camp.

Hall also had a kickoff return for a touchdown. The Huskies have looked at a slew of kick returners – from Mickens to Ross to Kevin Smith, and even freshman Jermaine Kelly.

Another issue for special teams last season was Coons handling the trifecta of kicking duties. He won’t be doing that this season. Coons has separated himself from freshman Cameron Van Winkle for the field-goal responsibilities. Gig Harbor’s’ Korey Durkee is still competing with Coons for punting duties. Van Winkle will handle kickoffs.

“That’s a lot on a guy to do triple duty the way (Coons) had to do last year,” Sarkisian said. “It was probably unfair to him, but we were trying to do what was best for our team. But, I think we are seeing the benefit of it. He’s kicking field goals very accurately right now. He’s punting the ball extremely well, as well.”

With the depth chart being finalized – Sarkisian expects to release an official two-deep Saturday – he’s able to assess how fringe players on the two-deep can be used on special teams, as well as project how his offensive and defensive starters fit there.


Sarkisian said offensive lineman Erik Kohler (left foot) and cornerback Patrick Enewally (hand) would be the players likely out against Boise State. Enewally is set to see a hand specialist Friday. … The Huskies are in the process of making redshirt decisions. Sarkisian said some non-freshmen may end up redshirting. @Todd_Dybas

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