The Wolverine

Sept 2023

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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BY CHRIS BALAS M i c h i g a n l os t two players to the NFL in punter Brad Robbins (Cincinnati Bengals) and kicker Jake Moody (San Fran- cisco 49ers), a pair so consistent that head coach Jim Harbaugh never lost any sleep over the kicking game the last four years. Special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh has coached the kickers — and the rest of the unit — well in his career, but the last two years, in particular, have been incredible. Moody, especially, was elite — not many kickers get drafted on Day 2 — and it's an open competition to replace him. Louis- ville graduate transfer James Turner and freshman Adam Samaha will likely battle it out for the right to kick, but matching Moody will be next to impossible. "Somebody else asked me earlier what I tell a kicker when they miss a big kick, and I'm going to have to remember that," Jim Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Days in July. "It's been that long since I had to say something to a kicker after he missed a big kick, or somebody that shanked a punt. Gosh, we've been so blessed." The punting job, however, appears to be in good hands. Junior Tommy Doman has been waiting his turn. While it no longer appears he'll handle all the kicking duties, he has come a long way as a punter … and he was always very good. "He's a special talent," Harbaugh said. "We haven't seen a leg like his since I've been here at Michigan. He's in a great place right now, attacking everything. "Kickers, as well. Right now, James has the lead. But … throw the balls out there and go from there." Turner was outstanding from 50 yards and in at Louisville last year. The Saline, Mich., native made 20 of 22 kicks in 2022 after hitting just 14 of 22 the year prior. He doesn't have the big leg like Moody, but the hope is he can make the "makeables." As for the return game, Michigan has several athletes ca- pable of returning both kicks and punts in 2023. A.J. Henning, last year's return man, entered the portal and moved on to Northwestern, opening doors for others. "That's good competition," Harbaugh said. "Mike Sainristil, Kalel Mullings … Donovan Edwards has been really good on punt return. Jake Thaw is right there at the top. Keshaun Harris, Karmello Eng- lish, Tyler Morris." At kick returner, Mullings and senior receiver Roman Wilson have both been working deep. Speedy senior Eamonn Dennis could be "extremely good" as well, Harbaugh said. But one "secret" plan has emerged, and they've just started working on it. Sopho- more Alex Orji is working primarily as a quarterback, but he's an athlete to watch. "Alex Orji has got a chance to maybe be one of the greatest kick returners of all time, a big, 236-pound guy," Harbaugh said in mid-August. "He just started doing it. We'll see how it goes. He's also excelling at quarterback so there will be some decisions that have to be made. "We have to improve in our kick return blocking before I would agree to have Alex Orji return any kicks. So, there's a bit of a challenge going on there." ❏ NEW GUYS U-M's Always Dependable Special Teams Still Being Sorted Out Junior Tommy Doman appears to have locked down the job at punter after waiting in the wings for two seasons. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL PLACEKICKER No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl./Elig. Remaining 32 James Turner 6-0 196 Gr./1 99 Adam Samaha 5-11 185 Fr./4 Note: Turner was "ahead" coming into fall camp, according to Jim Harbaugh. Samaha is competing as a true frosh. PUNTER No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl./Elig. Remaining 19 Tommy Doman 6-4 215 Jr./3 90 Hudson Hollenbeck 6-2 208 So./4 Note: Doman is the clear leader here, and Hollenbeck — a preferred walk-on and Mississippi State transfer — adds depth. LONG SNAPPER No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl./Elig. Remaining 49 William Wagner 6-2 255 Gr./2 45 Greg Tarr 6-2 205 Sr./3 Note: Wagner is back healthy after suffering a season-end- ing knee injury last October at Iowa. Tarr has experience, too. KICK RETURNER No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl./Elig. Remaining 20 Kalel Mullings 6-2 239 Sr./2 14 Roman Wilson 6-0 192 Sr./2 Note: Mullings was the first player Harbaugh mentioned when asked about this position. Wilson was U-M's kick re- turner for part of last season (5 returns for a 22.8-yard aver- age). The head coach said sophomore quarterback Alex Orji was also trying out, but his audition is in the early phases. PUNT RETURNER No. Player Ht. Wt. Cl./Elig. Remaining 0 Mike Sainristil 5-10 182 Gr./1 7 Donovan Edwards 6-1 210 Jr./2 Note: Sainristil is one of the few Wolverines with experience here. Edwards, meanwhile, has been "really good," Harbaugh said. — Clayton Sayfie 32 THE WOLVERINE ❱ SEPTEMBER 2023 SPECIAL TEAMS

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