Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 119 of 179

118 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW SPECIAL TEAMS BY CHRIS BALAS F inding a reliable kicker can be the differ- ence between a good season and a great season — just ask any coach who has had all the pieces of a championship team only to be let down by a guy who can't get the ball through the uprights. It's become even more important in the day and age of reduced scholarships and increased parity, where the smallest differences or most unlikely events (for example, a dropped punt snap at the end of the 2015 Michigan-Michi- gan State game returned for an MSU touch- down to win it) can determine the winner and the loser. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh knows well the importance of good special teams, and he's made it a priority. U-M has been good in the third phase during his tenure and has a chance to be even better this year with two kickers in redshirt junior Quinn Nordin and sophomore Jake Moody who would start for most teams in the country, and a punter in redshirt junior Will Hart who emerged out of nowhere last season to earn Big Ten Punter of the Year honors. "The whole kicking game in general is re- ally strong," former Michigan kicker Brandon Kornblue, who now runs the well-respected Kornblue Kicking Camps, said. "They're con- tinually recruiting and going after guys. "When the coaching staff understands the importance of special teams and specialists like these guys, it helps." Kornblue has tutored many of those special- ists, including both Nordin and Moody as well as Hart and redshirt sophomore punter Brad Robbins. All have the potential to be great, he said, and the kickers have both shown it at different times. Nordin was 19 of 24 as a redshirt frosh and 11 of 16 last year before a freak illness sidelined him before the Indiana game. He'd been struggling before the Nov. 17 contest, missing kicks against both Michigan State and Penn State. "I saw a couple things in technique I would have loved to be able to help him with," Korn- blue said. "In any sport, at any position, you're going to have little slumps here and there, and I think that's what it was. "It was a little minor slump but nothing major. He still had a good percentage overall — he just missed a couple kicks." Nordin might have been kicking a week after the win over the Hoosiers had Moody not been so good. The true freshman, who came in as a walk-on, made all six of his attempts in setting a U-M single-game record in a 31- 20 victory, and while that didn't necessarily force Harbaugh's hand, Moody got the nod the next week. He continued to kick well and finished 10 of 11 overall with his only miss coming from 52 yards in the Peach Bowl. "It was like the perfect storm of Jake getting the right opportunity, and if he goes 2 for 2, maybe Quinn gets the job back next week," Kornblue said. "They had to keep going with the hot foot after that. "I've been really impressed with the way Quinn has handled it and the way he's treated Jake. … From everything I've heard they get along great. Quinn has nothing against Jake; he just wants to play. That's really what it's all about." The competition was so tight at the end of spring that co-special teams coaches Chris Partridge and Jay Harbaugh couldn't pick a starter. The kickers had missed just a few kicks in pressure situations between them all spring. "It's great. I couldn't ask for better as a coach," Partridge said. "They're competing, they're getting after each other and they're great teammates for each other. … They're there for each other, they're coaching each other, and they're competing against each other. It's exactly what you want. "We have two of the best kickers around. … We'll let that crank as long as it has to go. That's not a competition you ever cut off. You let that thing keep rolling." Moody, though, might have the leg up when it comes to kickoffs. He was outstanding in that role last season, recording 43 touchbacks on 89 attempts. "It's not too often a true freshman can come in and start at that level," Kornblue said. "He had several touchbacks, but he was also put- ting it at the goal line, a couple yards deep with great placement. "Quinn is probably a little stronger, but Jake is able to place it a little better. And the coaches wanted to split the roles, with a sepa- rate punter, field goal and kickoff guy." Field goal kickers and punters are only QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Chris Partridge (fourth sea- son) and Jay Harbaugh (fifth year). Returning Starters: PR Donovan Peoples-Jones, KR Ambry Thomas, PK Jake Moody (13 career starts as kickoff specialist, 3 as PK), LS Camaron Cheeseman (26), P Will Hart (16), P Brad Rob- bins (10), PK Quinn Nordin (23). Departing Starters: None. Projected New Starter: Ronnie Bell (KR). Top Reserve: LS Trey Harper. Wait Until 2020: LS Matt Baldeck. Newcomer: Harper (Duquesne grad transfer). Moved In: None. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Ronnie Bell (KR/PR). Best Pro Prospect: Moody. A SpeciAl Bunch Michigan's Specialists Should Be A Strength In 2019 PRESEASON ANALYSIS: SPECIAL TEAMS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The Wolverines need more from their re- turn men, but the coverage units were great and the kicking game outstanding a year ago. Redshirt junior punter Will Hart had a very good spring and should be one of the nation's best next year, while redshirt junior Quinn Nordin and sophomore Jake Moody continue to bring out the best in each other at kicker. Whoever wins the job will have earned it. Ju- nior Donovan Peoples-Jones has earned third- team All-Big Ten honors as a punt returner. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Moody and Nordin might be the best 1-2 kicking combo in the country, and redshirt sophomore punter Brad Robbins is working hard to come back from a back injury. He was one of the top prep seniors in the country a few years ago. The Wolverines have a number of explosive athletes capable of returning punts and kicks. X-FACTOR Can the Wolverines generate more in their return games? Kick return, especially, should be better given the explosive players they have back there. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Coaches Chris Partridge and Jay Harbaugh have done an excellent job with this group over the last several years, especially in cover- age. They have athletes all over the field, and the overall kicking game is as strong as it has been in years.

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