Huskies kicker Erik Folk was focused and perfect the first half of last season, but struggled with his accuracy and his kickoffs after that. He has rededicated himself this spring.
Special-teams coach Johnny Nansen says he doesn’t worry much anymore about pointing out problems to Washington kicker Erik Folk.
Nansen, in his third year like the rest of UW’s coaching staff, says early in his tenure that coaches spent a lot of time pointing out every error.
“We were very hard on the kids at that time, getting to understand who they were,” he said.
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But as they’ve gotten to know players better, coaches have realized some need less prodding than others.
Folk, a senior next fall, falls into that category.
“He’s one of those kids who will correct himself more than anybody else,” Nansen said. “He’s very hard on himself.”
And as the Huskies progress through spring practice this month, Folk is determined to fix a vexing problem that surfaced the second half of last season — lifting his head a bit too early to follow the ball in flight.
Looking up too early can throw the trajectory of the kick off just enough to send it a little wide, similar to a golfer lifting his head too quickly out of his swing.
“That was definitely a problem later in the year,” Folk said.
The numbers bear it out.
Folk made his first seven kicks of the 2010 season. The highlight came when he converted all four at USC, including a game-winning 32-yarder as time ran out.
At that point, he was 25 of 28 for his UW career and building a reputation for being almost automatic.
But Folk made just 6 of 13 the rest of the season, including missing 2 of 3 attempts in the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska.
All of the attempts he missed in that stretch were 45 yards or longer, while Folk made every attempt from 37 yards or shorter. That supports Folk’s belief that the problem was simple: the longer the kick, the longer it has to stay straight.
“At the beginning of the year it was just kind of a habit, and then from there it kind of developed into a bigger problem and I got a little less consistent as the year went on,” said Folk, who is from Woodland Hills, Calif. “So I’ve been really working on that.”
So far, so good, says Nansen.
The coach said Folk has remained automatic on short kicks through the first nine spring practices and has gotten more consistent on longer field goals.
“I’m not even concerned about Erik, mentally and physically, as a field-goal kicker,” he said.
Nansen regards kickoff distance and accuracy as a bigger issue.
The Huskies ranked ninth in the Pac-10 last year in kickoff returns, allowing 24.09 yards. Some of the problems were due to coverage issues that were mitigated later in the season when UW returned to using more veterans full time.
But some were also due to kickoffs either not being deep enough or not being placed properly.
As it did in a lot of areas, Washington had one of its best games in kickoff coverage at the Holiday Bowl, allowing just 81 yards on four attempts. Nansen said Folk deserves a lot of the credit.
“He was just on point with his kickoffs,” Nansen said. “They were deep enough to allow our coverage team to get downfield. … To become a complete kicker, he has to work on that phase of his game.”
Nansen said Folk’s offseason conditioning regimen was altered a bit. “He now focuses on his flexibility more than anything, and I think that will help him,” the coach said.
Kickers spend most of practice working by themselves on the side. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Folk also works on his kickoffs while everyone else battles on the field.
“I’m just trying to become a little bit smoother,” Folk said. “My steps were choppy during the year, so I’m trying to become smoother and make solid contact with the ball. During the season, a lot of kicks were going off my toe, so I’m just trying to work on getting that solid contact.”
• The Huskies’ 11 a.m. Saturday scrimmage will be at Memorial Stadium. Admission is free but fans must check in at the North gate. There is no free parking, and fans are encouraged to use Seattle Center lots.
• Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was sick and absent from practice.