The Wolverine

2013 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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A Wealth OSpecial Teams Unit f Experience The Wolverines' Is Stacked With Veteran Talent W Fifth-year senior Brendan Gibbons has developed into one of the nation's most reliable placekickers, connecting on 29 of 35 field goal attempts (82.9 percent) the last two seasons. photo by lon horwedel Quick Facts Position Coach: Dan Ferrigno (third season). Returner Starters: K Brendan Gibbons, P Matt Wile, PR/KR Jeremy Gallon, KR Dennis Norfleet, H Drew Dileo and LS Jareth Glanda. Departing Starter: KR Vincent Smith. Projected New Starter: N/A. Top Reserve: KR Justice Hayes. Wait Until 2014: P Will Hagerup. Newcomers: Gunner Dymonte Thomas. Moved In: None. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: Thomas. Most Improved Player: Wile. Best Pro Prospect: Gibbons. FYI: The Michigan record for consecutive field goals made is 14, set by Remy Hamilton in 1996. Gibbons has made 13 straight, stretching back to a miss in the 2012 Purdue game … Gibbons has also converted 97 consecutive point after tries, 29 behind the program record (set in 1991 by J.D. Carslon) … Since 1967, Michigan kickers have booted 15 game-winning field goals with a minute or less remaining in the fourth quarter or in overtime. Gibbons claims two of those kicks (a 37-yarder in a 23-20 overtime win over Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl, and a 28-yarder in the waning seconds of a 12-10 win over Michigan State last season) … Six Michigan kickers tallied multiple 50-yard made field goals in their career (Hayden Epstein, four from 1998-2001), Bob Bergeron (three from 1980-84), Mike Gillette (two from 1985-88), J.D. Carlson (two from 1989-91), Mike Lantry (two from 1972-74) and Jay Feely (two from 1995-98). Gibbons and Wile both hit their first-career 50-yard field goal in 2012 (Wile: 52-yard versus South Carolina; Gibbons: 52-yarder versus Nebraska) … Michigan has not had a punt returner field a punt and score a touchdown since 2008 (Martavious Odoms, 73 yards versus Purdue), nor a kickoff for a touchdown since 2009 (Darryl Stonum, 94 yards versus Notre Dame) … Michigan's last special teams touchdown came in 2009, when Brandon Graham recovered a blocked punt for a score. 168  ■  The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview ST By Andy Reid hen Michigan head coach Brady Hoke first arrived in Ann Arbor, bringing special teams coordinator Dan Ferrigno along with him, the Wolverines had one of the weakest special teams units in the country. In 2010, Michigan ranked dead last nationally in field goal accuracy (4 of 14, 28.6 percent), 58th nationally in opponent kickoff returns (21.3 yards allowed per return), 65th nationally in kickoff returns (21.4 yards per return), 84th in opponent punt returns (9.8 yards allowed per return), 70th in punt returns (7.4 yards per return) and 86th in punting (39.4 yards per kick). In two short seasons, Hoke and Ferrigno have righted the ship in nearly every respect, in some cases drastically so. Fifth-year senior placekicker Brendan Gibbons completely turned around, transforming into one of the most reliable kickers in the country. Since the beginning of the 2011 season, he has hit 29 of 35 attempts (82.9 percent), including his final 13 tries last season. In 2012, the Wolverines' punting average (42.6 yards per kick), punt return average (8.8 yards per return) and kickoff return average (22.0 yards per return) were all higher than in the 2010 season. But there is still plenty of work to do. Michigan was simply not very good in the coverage game last season — something Ferrigno openly admits. In 2012, Michigan ranked 96th nationally in opponent punt return average (10.1 yards allowed per return) and 100th in opponent kick return average (23.3 yards allowed per return). Given the improvements Michigan's special teams have made under Ferrigno's watchful eye, and the impact players coming back in 2013, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about continued progress in the game's third — and sometimes forgotten — aspect. Increased Emphasis On Coverage When he looks back at last year's special teams performance, Ferrigno points to the Wolverines' inconsistent coverage teams as the area that needs to see the biggest improvement in 2013. "We're looking at what we're doing, scheme wise, and seeing if there are changes we can make there," Ferrigno said. "And with personnel, we felt that we need to beef it up a little more. I think you'll see more starters on that team." Last year, the Wolverines gave up a few too many big plays in the return game, including a 40-yard kickoff return to Northwestern that was potentially costly and a 63-yard punt return touchdown to South Carolina's Ace Sanders in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines' kickoff return unit had five true freshmen on it: cornerback Terry Richardson, linebacker James Ross III, safety Jarrod Wilson, fullback Sione Houma and linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone. For Ferrigno, the challenge is balancing the kickoff unit with young, unproven talent that has earned playing time in practice with veteran talent — all while trying to avoid injury. "We process the new guys with drills and evaluations, and as we get through fall ball and know who is going to play and who isn't, we start to make decisions," Ferrigno said. "Sione started on four of our special teams. He had some nice hits. We knew that we wanted him to play, that he was going to be a backup fullback for us. He didn't play as much on offense, but he was instrumental on special teams. "So do you want a guy like [linebacker] Jake Ryan out there, or a promising guy like Sione? Now, Jake can play more defense. There are

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