The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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[ S P E C I A L T E A M S ] 120 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW him a couple of seasons to get settled and get comfortable." There's no more back-and-forth battle with the originally scholarship-granted, higher-profile Nordin. "Sometimes that competition is helpful," Kornblue said. "But sometimes, when you don't have that full confidence, you don't feel like the coaching staff is behind you, and you feel like you're going to get pulled at any point — it's tough. It's tough to get in a groove that way. It was just a weird dynamic the last couple of years." Kornblue believes Michigan's abundance of kicking talent on hand could have almost served as a negative, in this instance. "You wouldn't ever want it any differ- ently, because you want talent," he said. "But a kicker, just like a quarterback, it's helpful to have the confidence that, hey, it's your job, and there's a little bit longer of a leash to perform without looking over your shoulder. "At the same time, you can't go 0 for 3 …" Of course, there's always competition. This season, it comes in rookie form, with true freshman Tommy Doman ready to step into a backup role as punter, and per- haps do some placekicking as well. Doman performed both duties at Or- chard Lake St. Mary's in recent seasons. He averaged 44.8 yards on 17 punts as a senior, booming one 53 yards. He also knocked 10 punts inside the opponents' 20. Doman nailed 6 of 7 field goals, made all 13 of his extra points and kicked off in 2020. He's the future for Michigan punting, Kornblue — who ranked him second na- tionally at that position — believes, and not a bad spare part to have on hand right now. "Doman is similar to Robbins, in terms of his pure punting potential," Kornblue said. "As long as he can transition into get- ting comfortable with the operation time and speeding up from catch to punt, he's going to be a great one as well. "You never want to throw a freshman in there, if you don't have to. It's so ben- eficial if he can just get used to things and redshirt, if possible. You've got to be ready to step up into that situation, but he's got a ton of talent." As for the placekicking end of it, Korn- blue takes a wait-and-see approach. "That's kind of to be determined," he said. "My guess would be yes, that they'll have him do both. It all just depends on the situation. I know [redshirt freshman] Karl Kerska came in as a walk-on, and he's been working on both, along with his holding." Holder is yet to be determined, with Kerska and Robbins two of the main con- testants. Redshirt freshman William Wag- ner should again handle the long snapping, after he did so in all six games following Cheeseman's opt-out declaration. "[Freshman] Greg Tarr came in and added depth there," Kornblue said. "I re- ally liked him coming out of high school. But they've got to add a little meat on his body. "Wagner was just thrown in the fire. Cheeseman was in line, and he fit the sys- tem perfectly, with his size. He was ex- perienced. It was just that COVID stuff, throwing the wrench into everything. "He left and put the whole specialist unit in a funky spot. They did not have the ex- perience and confidence in Wagner yet. He got thrown in the fire and obviously did an okay job. He wasn't awful, by any means. It was just a really tough situation. "That's one of those things where people say, 'Well, Quinn went 40 percent on field goals last year.' One, it was five attempts, and two, it was a unit he was not used to practicing with from the past few years. You usually have the offseason and the year before to get used to each other. They couldn't do that." There's also plenty of time to come up with return men, now that Jackson's depar- ture opened an opportunity. Second-year freshman running back Blake Corum could lead the kick returner charge, after taking back five an average of 19.2 yards last season. A few speedy receivers — sopho- more Mike Sainristil, and freshmen Roman Wilson and A.J. Henning — figure to get a long look there as well. Corum and Sainristil each caught a punt last year in game action. Those two and Henning should be top contenders for tak- ing back punts in 2021. All in all, Kornblue noted, he's looking for a bounce-back year for those in very targeted duties. "Harbaugh puts a lot of emphasis on special teams," he said. "Because of that, we're in good hands, in terms of realizing that from the top, it's a priority. "For me, that's a thumbs-up. It's one of the things I appreciate about Harbaugh." ❑ Assistant coach Jay Harbaugh has worked with special teams every year he's been on staff and is entering his second season as the unit's coordinator. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL In Jim Harbaugh's tenure at Michigan, the Wol- verines have converted on 95 of 125 field goals (76.0 percent) and 261 of 266 point-after tries (98.1 percent), recorded touchbacks on 213 of 438 kickoffs (48.6 percent), and blocked 14 kicks or punts. Among FBS players with multiple kickoffs last season, junior Jake Moody ranked second in the land with an average hangtime of 4.14 sec- onds, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Twenty-two of his 30 attempts (14 touchbacks, eight fair catches) were not returned. In Moody's career, 137 of his 195 kickoffs (79.3 percent) have not been returned. The Wolverines ranked 58th nationally in kick return defense a year ago, allowing an average of 20.57 yards per runback. However, that was actually a big improvement from 2019, when the team finished 106th in the land (23.16). Additionally, U-M did not allow a house call on a kickoff last season for the first time since the 2017 campaign. U-M's coverage team last fall helped the squad rank 15th nationally by allowing just 2.4 yards per punt return and 26th in net punting (40.71 yards per attempt). [ F Y I ]

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