The Huskies 2011 special teams units looked unbeatable one play and frustratingly average the next.
Special teams coach Doug Humbert had challenges early on in the season, when the kick and punt return teams first lost Kit Hillis to injury, followed by 2010 Canada West all-star kick returner Luke Thiel in week three. In addition, the Huskies never did settle on one or two of their three kickers, with each seeing action at both punter and placekicker throughout the season.
In spite of a rotation of personnel at the returning and kicking positions, the blockers were solid and well coached and that led to all special teams units progressing during the season and turning in a decent showing in the end. The field-goal teams finished tied for second in the conference with 13 of 19 good attempts. Punt returns were also strong, with the team finishing with 920 yards returned (over twice the yards of any other team) and one touchdown, the only team to return a punt for a touchdown. The Huskies were also the top kickoff cover team in the Canada West, with a net average of 34.1 yards per kick.
With the Huskies return game setting up nicely with the return of Hillis, Thiel, Jerit Lambert, Dexter Janke and Garrett Burgess, I skipped that position and went straight to kicking, since that was an area of concern last season. After that, to wrap up the interview, I asked Coach Towriss to comment on what his message is to his team as they work towards the 2012 season.
DC: Moving on to special teams, your return game is shaping up to be solid once again, but kicker is still a concern.
BT: Well, it’s still ongoing. We’re asking ourselves, how much will these guys develop? Chris Bodnar wasn’t the Chris Bodnar of now three years ago when he first started punting in this league.
With these guys, I think you have to continue to work with them and be patient. I think we’re in great shape with our field goals, at this point, and we’ve got to get better at punting the ball wherever we want to punt it.
DC: Are you looking at bringing in another guy or two?
BT: If we find one, but they don’t grow on trees. There are a couple guys we plan to look at. We have a couple guys with strong legs on the roster. (Sean) Stenger and Lambert also have strong legs. We just have be more consistent.
DC: Finally, I’ve heard you say a couple times to the team that it’s a competitive sport, that there are no safe positions and that it’s your job to go out and find talent to upgrade every position to make the team better. Are you using this message again to not only motivate players but send the message to recruits that opportunities exist where it may appear there aren’t any?
BT: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s some immediate opportunities for running backs, for two or three offensive linemen and a travel opportunity for a defensive lineman and maybe one in the secondary.
For the most part, a lot of our needs will be filled from within. There might be a couple juniors that step in here and have an immediate impact, but there will also be some opportunities for some players on the roster. A lot of times the young guys end up being better than the guy that played ahead of them.
I think now is the time for Dane Bishop, who would have played more last year if he hadn’t been sick. Guys like Dane and Jaques Geyer now have a real opportunity to step in and make a name for themselves in this league.