The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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118 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW GETTING THEIR KICKS Michigan's Specialists Are Ready For The Ride BY JOHN BORTON Redshirt junior Brad Robbins led the Big Ten and finished 10th nationally with an average of 45.3 yards per punt last season. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN [ S P E C I A L T E A M S ] T he 2020 football season felt like a throwaway year for Michigan football. The slate sliced in half by a pandemic, the team riddled with injuries, the Wolverines probably didn't mind ripping those pages right off the calendar. Such a sentiment might go double for U-M's special teams performers. Junior place- kicker Jake Moody went 1 of 4 early on field goals, and lost his job to the newest New England Patriot, Quinn Nordin. Nordin then went 2 of 5, appearing to express his frustration more than once. Antici- pated long snapper Camaron Cheeseman joined those sitting out the season, before getting drafted. U-M's primary return man for kicks and punts, Giles Jackson, bolted through the trans- fer portal after the year ended. So did displaced punter Will Hart. In other words, even the bright spots seemed to dim quickly. Former Wolverine Brandon Kornblue understands the life of a specialist. All too often, they're largely overlooked until they enter one of two categories — big plays, or big mis- takes. The owner of Kornblue Kicking closely monitors Michigan football, and especially those specialists. While he acknowledges some of the struggles of 2020, he's quick to remind everyone that the falloff marks an aberration, rather than a trend. "Overall, it's been really good," Kornblue said. "You look at the number of records that Quinn has broken. You've got some records that Jake has broken. "With Will Hart being Big Ten Punter of the Year as a walk-on, and [redshirt junior] Brad Robbins starting out with an injury and now coming back, I feel he's going to have a breakout year." Kornblue insists a lot of the strong efforts are tied to head coach Jim Harbaugh's willing- ness to offer scholarships to specialists. He points to Cheeseman, who represents the first Michigan long snapper to be drafted, ever. "Last year would have been a whole different story had Cheeseman stayed, from a spe- cialists' standpoint," Kornblue opined. "That was tough on that unit. He's gone, and they don't have any time to get a transfer or anybody else in there. "It was just, boom! Okay, here's the rookie that's got to play. They weren't ready for that." Overall, Kornblue reiterated, Michigan has seen far more good out of its special teams than it has experienced 2020's painful version. "Now, trying to rotate the kickers in there, because both Jake and Quinn were so good … looking back on it, it obviously was not a smart move," Kornblue said. "Neither of them could get into a rhythm. It was just a tough situation. "You had two super-talented guys. I've said it before and I'll say it again — they're both NFL-level kickers. The numbers weren't as good as what they could have been, to those guys' potential, but overall, when you look at the history of percentages … it's one of the better eras we've ever had." He doesn't let that bold statement float out there unsupported. "An Ali Haji-Sheikh or a J.D. Carlson were great kickers, but their percentages were not QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Jay Harbaugh (seventh year). Returning Starters: K Jake Moody, P Brad Robbins and LS William Wagner. Departing Starters: K Quinn Nordin, LS Cama- ron Cheeseman, P Will Hart (transferred to San Jose State), KR/PR Giles Jackson (transferred to Washington). Projected New Starters: KR Blake Corum or A.J. Henning, and PR Mike Sainristil. Top Reserves: P/K Tommy Doman. Wait Until 2022: Doman. Newcomer: Doman. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Hart and Jackson. Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Robbins. Best Pro Prospect: Robbins.

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