The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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is doing all he can to shore it up. Before every practice, the Wolverines work on special teams: kickers at one end, skills players at the other, rotating in and out to catch punts. Everyone from starting punt returner Jeremy Gallon to freshman running back Justice Hayes goes back there. ���It���s something we work on every day,��� Ferrigno said. ���Catching the football and holding onto it ��� you have to stress that.��� Through four games, Gallon, a redshirt sophomore, is looking to do more than just hold onto the ball, though. He���s averaging 12.8 yards per return on five attempts. Against Eastern Michigan, Gallon tracked the punt all the way to the far sideline from where his blocking lane had been set. He deftly weaved through potential tacklers, working northwest to find his opportunity before shooting off down the opposite sideline. Seventy-one yards later, he was taken down inside the red zone, but a block-in-the-back penalty negated the run. With his explosiveness, Gallon could become the first Michigan punt returner to take one back since senior Martavious Odoms in 2008. ���It���s not just me,��� Gallon said. ���We work on blocking all the time, and my teammates set up great running lanes for me.��� Kickoffs Wile, in his first year on the job, has put the Wolverines in good position to make plays, averaging 62.9 yards a kick (putting opponents inside their own 5-yard line) and notching one touchback. But the coverage got off to a slow start, giving up 31.3 yards per return in the season opener against Western Michigan. The Wolverines improved almost immediately. The next week versus Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish notched a 34-yard return late in the game. On the five other kickoffs, Michigan gave up just 11.0 yards per return. Against Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines allowed a respectable 20.3 yards. For the season through four games, U-M has allowed 21.5 yards per kick return. ���Matt���s doing a good job so far,��� Ferrigno said. ���We just have to remember to stay in our lanes and attack.��� Kickoff Return The Wolverines rank 102nd nationally in kickoff returns, averaging just 18.6 yards per attempt. They haven���t notched a single return longer than 25 yards. ���We have to get more consistent there with our blocks,��� Ferrigno said. Hoke hasn���t considered ousting his starting returnman, junior running back Vincent Smith, though. Smith has worked with this kick return team since he arrived on campus, mostly Freshman Matt Wile has done a solid job through four games as the team���s punter (41.1 yards per punt) and kickoff man (62.9 yards per kick). photo by per kjeldsen U-M Kickers��� Production Through Four Games Since 2007 The last five years have not been kind to the Wolverines��� special teams unit, especially in the opening month of the season. Since 2007, Michigan has converted just 11 of 22 field goals (50.0 percent) in the first four games, a stretch that includes the blocked kick against Appalachian State in the 2007 season opener. No kicker has escaped the first month of the season with a perfect stat line. Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Kicker Jason Gingell K.C. Lopata Jason Olesnavage Brendan Gibbons Seth Broekhuizen Brendan Gibbons 42��� the wolverine��� ������ October 2011 FG 3 3 3 1 0 1 Att. 7 4 4 4 1 2 Long 42 50 44 24 0 21 as a second- or third-string option. This year, his number was called. ���Coach put me in to see if something would happen, and I just went with it,��� Smith said. ���I take any opportunity I get. ���I can catch, just like at running back, read the holes with great vision and make stuff happen.��� The Wolverines��� most dangerous kickoff returner is stuck on the sidelines, though. Senior wide receiver Darryl Stonum, who is serving a year-long suspension while taking a redshirt after, holds the program record for return yards in a season, notching 1,001 in 2009. The mark is more than 300 yards more than second-place Steve Breaston (689 yards in 2004). If Stonum returns to the field in 2012, he will almost assuredly break the career record of 1,993 yards held by Breaston from 2003-06 (Stonum is at 1,538 yards through three years of play). ���

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