By Gregg Bell – UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Don’t get him wrong, Travis Coons loved tripling up last year for the Huskies.
He was Washington’s primary field-goal kicker. He was its kickoff man. And he was the punter in 2012. Not bad for a debut season for a junior-college transfer.
But not so good for Coons’ – and the team’s – bottom line.
“It’s a really cool thing that I got the opportunity to do that,” Coons said. “That’s what I wanted the opportunity to do coming out of junior college. I just did field goals in junior college (at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.)
“(But) yeah, it’s definitely a little bit easier knowing I probably won’t be handling all that again this season.”
Probably became definitely on Thursday, at least for the opening game Aug. 31 at new Husky Stadium.
Coach Steve Sarkisian sorted out three of the four remaining battles for starting positions, nine days before the Huskies’ opener. He announced following Thursday’s two-hour practice that Coons has for now won the field-goal job over freshman Cameron Van Winkle. Van Winkle’s big leg will be used on kickoffs. Coons will also split punting duties with Korey Durkee, who punted early last season before Coons took that role — and every other UW kicking chore in 2012.
“If we were playing a game Saturday, which (we will simulate) in our mock game, Travis will kick field goals," Sarkisian said. “Depending on the situation you will see Durkee and Coons doing some punt stuff. That one is not as solidified yet.”
The other position battle still apparently open is at right cornerback. Senior Greg Ducre seems set at left corner. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Peters, who started the final eight games of 2012, and redshirt freshman Cleveland Wallace have been getting long looks on the right.
Senior Princeton Fuimaono is pushing to start at outside linebacker opposite Shaq Thompson, but so is redshirt sophomore Travis Feeney.
Sarkisian said he hopes to release a two-deep roster this weekend for the opener.
The all-important offensive line is set. Colin Tanigawa has proven he is fully back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament to take the right guard spot, and Sarkisian praised him Thursday for immediately seizing a leadership role on the line upon his full-time return two weeks ago. Ben Riva is the left tackle, after starting eight games at right tackle last season. Dexter Charles is the left guard, the position he played the final 10 games of 2012, immediately after Tanigawa got hurt. Mike Criste is the center, a position Erik Kohler was beginning to play in spring practice before he hurt his left foot in June. Kohler is the one experienced starter Sarkisian has ruled out health-wise for the opener.
Micah Hatchie, the left tackle for all 13 games last season, is the right tackle to start this season.
UW signed Van Winkle, a record-setting kicker last year at Mount Si High School in the east Seattle suburbs, with the intention of giving Coons a break from the trifecta of kicking duties he had most of last season.
Coons said he last did all three special-teams jobs at Alta Loma High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where he won the southern California section championship and went to the state title game.
“I was also a safety and wide receiver,” the 6-foot-2, 199-pounder Coons said with a hint of pride.
Coons kicked the game-winning field goal from 30 yards out with 1:20 left last Oct. 27 to send the Huskies over seventh-ranked Oregon State. But Sarkisian and special-teams coach Johnny Nansen believed Coons tired in November and December while practicing and playing in every special-teams area — and that he missed some key kicks as a result.
He made nine of 14 field-goal tries in 2012, with a long of 45 yards. He missed one field goal in each of the season’s final three games, including a 35-yard try on the last play of regulation that would have beaten Washington State.
This month Coons was more consistent that Van Winkle, who has the bigger leg. With all else equal, Sarkisian values consistency and thus dependability over a kicker who can boom field goals from beyond 50 yards.
So if the Huskies need to drive inside the opponent’s 25 to get points this season from Coons, so be it. They are focused on more red-zone chances becoming touchdowns, anyway.
"I notice him more fresh with field goals now," Sarkisian said. "He’s not having to kickoff every day in practice and all those things. That’s a lot on a guy to have to do triple duty like he had to last year. And it was probably unfair to him."
Coons has also opened eyes this month with booming, high punts. Those have afforded coverage teams added time to get down field before returns begin.
Coons had 54 punts at an average of 39.8 yards and Durkee averaged 36.9 on 15 punts last season. The Huskies’ gross (38.6) and net punting (34.8) averages were the lowest in the Pac-12.
Van Winkle has been sailing kickoffs deeper and often into the end zone more often than Coons did last season. Only 11 of Coons’ 63 kickoffs went for touchbacks last season, the lowest total in the conference. UW’s opponents had almost twice as many touchbacks (21) in 13 games.
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The “training camp” portion of the preseason ended this week, as the focus turned Wednesday to Boise State game preparation. Thursday the Huskies scrimmaged in game-like situations of three downs then — if the defense got a stop — punting, plus scoring, extra points, kickoffs, game-like timing, clock management, etc. … Saturday, the team will conduct a “mock game” inside Husky Stadium. The players will dress in and come out of their locker room at the time and by the position group that they will for warm ups prior to each real game. They will go through the procedure at coin tosses of captains (who will be revealed Saturday night at the team’s annual “Raise the Woof” celebration at the Dempsey Indoor facility). They will go through sideline communication with coaches in the new press box atop the south stands — the works, just as if it was Aug. 31 against Boise State. … Sarkisian said the biggest surprise to him of training camp was the re-emergence of Kevin Smith. The wide receiver and kickoff returner was gaining a foothold in the offense and becoming a dangerous return man when he ripped up his knee during practice in San Antonio days before the 2011 Alamo Bowl. Smith returned last season but had just six catches and five kickoff returns in 12 games. “He’s been really dynamic, especially the last two weeks of training camp. He’s playing fast. He’s kind of back to his old self,” Sarkisian said. “You try not to lay expectations on people, but you have the pieces to puzzle laid out on the table and you start putting them together, I don’t know if we really thought going in number 8 would be such an integral part of the puzzle. But right now he is.”