The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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NOVEMBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 33 BY CHRIS BALAS S pecial teams coordinator Jay Har- baugh couldn't help but laugh a bit when asked this preseason about the potential of his groups. He's got ath- letes all over the place to fill out the return and coverage teams, a proven kick returner, and a pair of kickers and punters that would make most teams envious. There are choices to be made, of course, but some of them have al- ready started to work themselves out. Wideout Giles Jackson, for ex- ample, averaged 25.9 yards per kick return last year and notched a 97- yard touchdown to open the game at Maryland. The sophomore is ex- plosive, and the early returns indi- cate he's gotten even faster. Finding someone to complement him is the goal now, Harbaugh said Oct. 7. "We really put an emphasis this offseason not only on Giles improv- ing and getting better, but also hav- ing a great backup, a good, dynamic guy back there with him," Harbaugh explained. "[Redshirt sophomore] Michael Barrett did a great job for us as an off returner last year, but we just want to be a little deeper overall. If Giles is not going to be back there, who will replace him?" Many of them are the same ones competing at punt return, according to the coach. Junior Ronnie Bell is "probably the guy" there right now, with Harbaugh noting he's gotten a lot of reps over the past few years. He returned eight punts for 67 yards last year (8.4 yards per re- turn) while spelling Donovan Peoples- Jones (who averaged 7.2). Jackson has been working there as well, and several other can- didates are in the run- ning. "[Freshman] Blake Corum is a natural punt catcher," Harbaugh said. "[Freshman] Eamonn Den- nis is dangerous with the ball in his hands. We like what he does. [Sophomore] Mike Sainristil has a good amount of reps stacked from last year." At placekicker, fifth-year se- nior kicker Quinn Nordin has the edge after making his last 10 field goals a year ago. He made a pair against Ohio State and three more versus Alabama, including a school-record-tying 57-yarder. "We love the way he finished last year," Harbaugh said. "We love the way he's been practicing. It's a position where, just like all the other ones, you're going to put the guy out there that gives you the best chance to win. More than likely, that history would say that would be Quinn." But there's time before the Oct. 24 opener at Minnesota, and junior Jake Moody has also had some success in his career. They'll continue to move the ball to different hashes and run two-minute drills, etc., to separate them, Harbaugh noted, and see what works best operation-wise. At punter, fifth-year se- nior Will Hart and redshirt junior Brad Robbins have both earned All-Big Ten honors in their careers, and they're neck and neck. "They kick a little differ- ent ball and have different strengths," Harbaugh said. "They are competing like crazy, a lot of reps with the full punt team where everything is charted. "It's really tight right now, and we grade really strictly on criteria. How long does it take to get a punt off? Where they are putting it location wise? What's the hang time, the dis- tance? "I can just say we're thrilled with how both responded. They're mak- ing it a hard decision." Finally, the Wolverines will be looking for a new long snapper af- ter fifth-year senior Cam Cheeseman opted out. "We have two good guys with [freshman Greg] Tarr and [redshirt freshman William] Wagner. [Junior defensive end] Aidan Hutchinson is a good long snapper," Harbaugh said. "We feel good about the com- petition and will continue to let that play out and see who is going to be the guy going into the game." ❏ KICKERS, PUNTERS AND RETURN MEN SHOULD BE OUTSTANDING PLENTY TO LIKE ABOUT SPECIAL TEAMS Michigan has put time into its special teams under Jim Harbaugh, and that will continue. Jay Harbaugh takes over as the sole coordinator with Chris Partridge's departure to Ole Miss, and he has a lot to work with: Biggest Strength: Pick one of many. The kickers and punters are both two deep with guys who would start at most schools. Fifth-year senior Quinn Nordin and junior Jake Moody provide the 1-2 punch that should ensure the field goal unit is outstanding. Biggest Concern: There aren't many worries here, really. There's a lot of talent, plenty of players to fill out the return teams and the coverage units, and the kickers and punters are outstanding. Kick return is good with sophomore Giles Jackson, but punt return is a bit of a question mark. Junior Ronnie Bell has experi- ence, but he's put the ball on the ground a few times. — Chris Balas SPECIAL TEAMS Special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh admitted in early October that fifth-year senior Quinn Nordin had the edge in the place-kicking battle after making his last 10 field goals a year ago. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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