The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 175 ST Year award after positing a single-season Michigan-record 45.3 yards per punt. "If you were to have asked us a year ago, I wouldn't have said it was going to happen," Ferrigno said. "But now, I can see where he is going, and I am happy for him. I'm happy for us, too, because he is a really talented guy. "I think that year was good for him. I think he addressed the things he needed to address, and he is a better guy because of it. That showed this spring. He was a much more consistent punter, and we are very pleased with his progress. He has a hell of a leg. He is big, strong. It's going to big for us." Even though Ferrigno is pleased with what he saw from Hagerup this spring, he has not named a starting punter just yet. Wile is still very much in the competition, as is redshirt sophomore Kenny Allen, a punting specialist by trade who surprised the coaching staff with a very solid placekicking performance this spring. Allen, a walk-on, is an Ann Arbor native. "We knew what we were getting when Kenny came in," Ferrigno said. "He came to our kicking camp, and we were able to work with him a bit, and we saw what a talent he was. He could have gone to Oregon State on scholarship and chose to come here. We know what we have in Kenny. We like him a lot. He has gotten bigger since he's been here. He's up to 215 pounds, up from 180. He's gotten a lot stronger, and his leg has improved. "When I watch Kenny, I never think of him as a walk-on. I know he doesn't have any aid, but this is a guy we wanted. We wanted him here, and we're glad we have him. He will be doing something for us next year, if not this year, that's for sure." Getting More From Punt Return Ferrigno has a conservative approach toward punt returns: make sure you have possession of the ball. The most important factor of fielding a punt is giving the ball over to the offense. That isn't to say he doesn't want to see more production from the team, however. BIG TEN RANKINGS KICKERS 1. Michael Geiger, So., Michigan State — Had a breakout rookie season, hitting an impressive 15 of 16 field goals, with a career long of 49 yards at Iowa, and 36 of 38 extra points. 2. Brad Craddock, Jr., Maryland — A Lou Groza Award semifinalist in 2013, Craddock hit 19 of 23 field goals last season and has a career long of 52 yards. 3. Sam Ficken, Sr., Penn State — After a rough 2012 season, Ficken connected on 15 of 23 attempts last year, but struggled on long-range tries (11 of 19 from 30 or more yards). He has a long of 54 yards. 4. Matt Wile, Sr., Michigan — Will take over full field goal responsibilities after two years as U-M's long-distance specialist (5 of 8 with a long of 52 yards). 5. Taylor Zalewski, R-Jr., Illinois — In first full year as starter, nailed 12 of 17 attempts with a long of 51 yards. Connected on all 38 extra point tries. PUNTERS 1. Mike Sadler, Sr., Michigan State — Ranked No. 15 nationally and first in the Big Ten in punting attempts (76) and No. 39 nationally in punting average (42.5 yards per kick). 2. Cameron Johnston, So., Ohio State — Led the conference in punting average (44.0 yards per attempt), but averaged a Big Ten-low 3.8 punts per game. 3. Will Hagerup, 5th-Sr., Michigan — Redshirted last season while serving a one-year suspension. Won the 2012 Big Ten Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award after averag- ing a conference-high 45.0 yards per punt. 4. Peter Mortell, R-Jr., Minnesota — His average of 43.3 yards per attempt ranked third in the Big Ten in 2013 and marked the third-best single-season average in program history. 5. Sam Foltz, R-So., Nebraska — Averaged 41.6 yards per punt with 16 50-yard punts and 22 attempts that landed inside the 20-yard line as a first-year starter in 2013. UNITS 1. Michigan State — The Spartans return both kickers, including Mike Sadler who is the hands-down favorite for the Big Ten Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award, from last year's team that was consistently the best special teams unit in the conference. 2. Michigan — Despite the loss of three-year starting field goal kicker Brendan Gib- bons, the Wolverines have a proven commodity in Matt Wile and return 2012 Eddleman- Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year Will Hagerup from a one-year suspension. 3. Ohio State — Cameron Johnston led the Big Ten in punting average last year (44.0 yards per punt). Although the Buckeyes lose steady placekicker Drew Basil, early enrollee Sean Nuernberger was a pleasant surprise in spring practices. 4. Illinois — The Fighting Illini return both specialists from last season's team, includ- ing placekicker Taylor Zalewski and punter Justin DuVernois, who averaged 41.1 yards per attempt last season. 5. Minnesota — Peter Mortell had a breakout season in 2013 in his first year as the Gophers' starting punter. Minnesota must replace placekicker Chris Hawthorne, but 2012 Under Armour All-American Game participant Ryan Santoso is waiting in the wings. PRESEASON ANALYSIS: SPECIAL TEAMS Starter ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ Despite the loss of placekicker Brendan Gibbons, the Wolverines find themselves in good position. They return do-it-all kicker Matt Wile, who will most likely focus on field goals and kickoffs this year, while Will Hagerup returns to the fold as punter after a one- year suspension. Junior Dennis Norfleet has been a consistent kickoff returner (though he has yet to break the big one). The competition for punt returning duties will be fierce through the summer. Depth ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ If Wile struggles with his field goal kicking duties, the Wolverines believe they have another option in redshirt sophomore Kenny Allen. And between Hagerup, Wile and Allen, there is plenty of depth at punter. Norfleet could potentially take over as punt returner, too, but there are plenty of possibilities there, including redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jehu Chesson, sophomore cornerback Jourdan Lewis and incoming fresh- man defensive back Jabrill Peppers. X-Factor Hagerup has not punted competitively since the 2012 Ohio State game. Will the Hagerup who set a single-season program record for punting average and won the Big Ten Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award in 2012 show up? Or will he return to his 2011 form, when he struggled and averaged just 36.0 yards per attempt? One thing is for sure: Hagerup has one of the strongest legs in Michigan history. If he has the type of season he is capable of having, Hagerup could be the best punter in the league — and possibly the country — in 2014. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ The Wolverines are in much better shape than most teams who lose a three-year starter at placekicker and multiple punt returners. Wile, who has built up some placekick- ing experience in the last few years, should have a big season, and Norfleet or one of the many other options will emerge at punt returner. Add in the fact that Hagerup will return to the fold, and the Wolverines' special teams should be among the Big Ten's best. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5. Michigan State senior Mike Sadler punted 76 times last year, most in the Big Ten, and he ranked No. 39 nationally with an average of 42.5 yards per punt. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN 174-177.STs.indd 175 6/19/14 3:14 PM

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