"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
What goes into deciding whether to go punt block or punt return when you’ve got such an explosive return man in Jabrill?
“Uh…same thing that goes into when you throw a fastball or the curve. You know, you’ve got to pressure- the ability to pressure a punter keeps people in protection, sets up the ability to return. The ability to return a punt sets up the ability to pressure, and it’s really not unlike making calls of any kind in the game of football. You do all your work and you crunch all your numbers but you coach the game by feel, and it pretty much is that.”
How pleased are you with that unit? Does that unit still have more to give?
“The punt return unit?”
And punt block.
“I’ll tell ya, I’m really pleased, actually, with the punt return. The amazing thing is we’ve had 51 reps of it in five games now. Somebody needs to go back far and see how many times there’s 51 reps in five games. Obviously it’s because we’re playing amazing defense and what have you, but if you really look at what the unit has done, there’ve been three returnable balls kicked to us out of 51, okay? Obviously we had a round robin with all the Australian rugby punters against each other in the first four games, and everybody found out it’s really hard to return one of those. Three returnable balls, and we’ve- you know, the baseball analogy is we’ve hit the ball hard but unfortunately we’ve knocked it off the wall for doubles and triples. We haven’t had a home run yet.
“I think the thing that goes unsaid is Jabrill’s amazing decision-making back there [and] unselfishness to not risk balls that shouldn’t be touched or should be on the ground, protecting his teammates, those kinds of things. Besides being explosive the punt returner needs to be a great decision-maker and really needs to handle the ball well because one of the things we always say is if you have the ball you have the team, and you need to take care of the team. It’s been effective. I wish we could get more returnable balls, but I’m not in control of that.”
[After THE JUMP: Baxter is the Yogi Berra of this coaching staff]
Kenny, when you first got here you were kind of thought more of as a punter. Did you ever think you'd be in the position where you'd be competing for and then winning this job as kicker?
Kenny Allen: "I've kind of always had it in the back my mind, but to be honest I didn't actually think that I would be pursuing the kicking job this much and then when the opportunity did arise it really started to become a reality."
How much in high school did you kick as well as punt?
KA: "I did everything in high school so yeah, it was kind of nice to get back to doing all three."
Kenny, how long did it take to settle into that role? Was it in the first game after you made some kicks?
KA: "Yeah, I think after the first game. After getting the first kick out of the way everything felt a lot easier. Kind of like a weight was lifted and then from then on everything was downhill, just smooth. Everything was a lot more comfortable."
Kenny, last week before the Oregon State game you got a full ride. Can you just talk about the timing of that?
KA: "Yeah, I’d say it's kind of ironic because I turned down a full ride from Oregon State coming out of high school, and then the week that we play them I’m put on scholarship here. So, it's just kind of nice to see that other people think I'm working hard and that I'm deserving of a scholarship. Yeah, it's nice."
[After THE JUMP: Allen, Blake O’Neill, Erik Magnuson, and Matt Godin]
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Kenny Allen||Jr*||Blake O'Neill||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*|
|Kyle Seychel||Fr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Andrew David||Fr||Jehu Chesson||Jr*||Jehu Chesson||Jr*|
No coaching upgrade on the team is steeper than special teams. Under Brady Hoke and Dan Ferrigno, Michigan featured adequate kicking and terrible everything else. Their usual MO was one blocked punt against an early tomato can, archaic punt coverage that was terrible even with 11 guys on the field, and return units that did little except take penalties when Dennis Norfleet finally managed to escape from ravenous packs of defenders.
John Baxter's Fresno State teams led the country in blocked kicks over the course of his tenure there—one that overlaps with Virginia Tech at its Beamerball peak—and in his only year at USC took their special teams units from nowhere to 2nd and 4th in the country in blocked punts and kicks, respectively. Special teams is a low data, high variance enterprise but if anyone's got the track record to suggest he's going to make an impact, it's Baxter.
Now about that scholarship kicker…
The holder becomes the holdee [Fuller]
This is looking hairy all of a sudden. Scholarship freshman ANDREW DAVID was immediately dumped well down the depth chart, and Michigan must turn to the walk-ons that populate any D-I team's kicking roster. One, KENNY ALLEN [hello post], was the heir apparent at punter until John Baxter rolled into town with an Aussie in tow; the other, KYLE SEYCHEL, is a redshirt freshman who fans didn't even know was on the team until fall camp.
Reports out of said camp have been worried. Those coming out of the open practice were mixed, but guys who had been around for more than a few attempts were disquieted. There are reports Michigan is reconsidering their decision to forgo a scholarship guy in the 2016 class. That is not a good sign. Neither is that OR on the depth chart.
"I dunno, is kicker" is always a valid thing to say about kickers you have not seen much of; in this case I'm just hoping for a guy to bang them in from 40 yards and in.
wait isn't this guy in twilight or something [Eric Upchurch]
The OR is much more welcoming at this spot. Things are looking just fine at punter despite the departures of both Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Allen has been booming punts in practice for a few years now, and during the Hoke era we saw a lot of punts in practice.
And then there's that imported Aussie. BLAKE O'NEILL [g'day mate post] comes from a land down under where small children carry around football-shaped objects to punt at anything they run across that is poisonous. Everything in Australia is poisonous. (Yes, especially the koalas.) When the survivors reach adulthood, the resulting skills are impressive:
Asked if the 6-foot-2, 215-pound kicker is the type of special teams player who can change a game, Baxter nods, saying, "He's that."
"Listen," he continued, "if you put a trashcan out there 40 yards, he can usually hit it, OK? He's as accurate, and in some cases more accurate than, the quarterbacks."
O'Neill's first year in college football was last year, when he did this at Weber State:
O'Neill finished sixth nationally (Football Championship Subdivision) in punting during the 2014 season at Weber State. He played in all 12 games and averaged 44.1 yards per punt, setting a single-season punting average record for the Wildcats.
O'Neill tallied 62 punts for 2,737 yards with a long of 74 yards. He boomed 18 punts of 50-plus yards and notched 25 boots inside the opposition's 20-yard line. O'Neill ran for a first down on a fake punt and tossed a completion for a first down on another fake.
Are you ready for some punting highlights? Woo!
AUSSIE PUNTS: SKY TERRITORY sounds like a Chuck Norris movie
Not sure if he's going to be able to do the thing where he idles for a couple seconds before he punts at at D-I level, but Michigan now has a special teams coach with a terrific track record. If he can make it so, it will be so.
O'Neill can rugby punt with either foot and his directional kicking skills in the video above are creepy, Orin Incandenza-level stuff. Real life Blake O'Neill probably isn't going to be good as a fictional punter who is the highest paid player in the NFL. Probably.
[After THE JUMP: gratuitously placed Jabrill Peppers highlights designed to make you click through mooohahaha]
How do you feel about your unit here going into the first game?
“You know, the thing that’s unique about the kicking game is the first time you really test it is the game, and we don’t have preseason games in college. So, I feel great about the practices we’ve had so far. We get 29 of them. We’ve had whatever, however many we’ve been allotted. The head coach has given us incredible meeting time, practice time, and availability and so to this point I like the focus of our players and what we’ve done and look forward to the contest, but you get to see what you’ve got when you play. It’s very hard to simulate a kickoff or a punt in practice and the intensity of the game.”
Who’s leading at the kicker spot?
“Well, you know, we’ve got three. This competition is going to go all the way up until pregame. And there’s really no need to pick one at this point because there’s none of them that have been in a game. Coach Harbaugh really believes in competitive excellence at every position, and those guys are duking it out. They’ve been taking- they took equal turns today in team. Each of them got four kicks. They’ve taken equal turns pretty much through camp.”
Who are the guys working there?
“Kyle Seychel and Kenny Allen and Andrew David- you know, the new guy, the freshman. They’ve done a nice job. Once again, we get the opportunity to practice 29 times so we’re going to take that opportunity. There’s not an established starter or whatever there, so…”
What about at punter?
“Well, at punter, Kenny Allen and Blake O’Neill are both punting. They will both punt, okay? They will both punt for Michigan this year. Blake has some skills Kenny doesn’t have, [and] Kenny has some skills Blake doesn’t have. And we’re a pro-style team on offense, defense, and kicking game, and Blake came here to want to be a pro in one year, and Kenny has really embraced being accurate. So here’s the thing: they’re both good. Kenny’s improved a lot. Blake adds some nice depth there, and they’ll both play. Don’t know how often you see a two-punter system, but we got one.”
[After THE JUMP: Kick and punt returners, and a personal connection]
8/31/2013 – Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9 – 1-0
oh yeah Kalis and Magnuson beardin' it up yo [Upchurch]
You may not remember this because of the recent history of Michigan football, but often after one-sided blowouts not against Notre Dame this space will throw up its hands at the idea of crafting an actual column and skip straight to bullets and highlights and whatnot. It's tough to narrate the emotional tenor of a humid August day against a team that never had a chance.
MY COLUMN ABOUT THIS FIFTY POINT WIN THAT MADE MY WIFE MAD BECAUSE SHE FELT BAD FOR THE OPPONENT
It was kind of boring, but on the other hand it was nice not to be terrified. It was hot and Dave Brandon smells like pee.
But, you know, at some point in the third quarter Michigan threw a second team offense out there, and it was thrilling. I know this is basically me saying "hello, I am freak. Freak talk now. Freak talk." But there it is. I actually felt excited when the second-team OL came out, possibly more excited than I had been for anything that was not Dennis Norfleet all day. Ben Braden was out there. Chris Bryant. Blake Bars. Erik Magnuson. Joey Burzynski. One walk-on (not four); no upperclassmen. The future. Magnuson even got in on the goal line and did well for himself.
Michigan loses Lewan and Schofield; they also get six more bullets in their chamber as the 2013 OL class comes off redshirts, chomping at the bit. The days when Michigan's depth chart reads "three to five guys, then a bottomless pit" are close to over. Might already be over.
On the other side of the ball the equivalent moment came too soon to even think about it: the second drive. Michigan threw four guys out there who hadn't played on the first drive, and switched up some linebackers, and I'm not sure fans who don't obsessively track the numbers of everyone in the game would even notice. They'd go three deep at many spots by halftime.
They'll graduate three of the 20 players in the front seven who saw the field, and nobody from the secondary. Because of suspension and injury in the safety corps, yeah. But still.
Take this depth chart. Stack the 2014 depth chart behind it. Put 2015 behind that. You can even go to 2016, probably, what with Michigan's 2015 class approaching halfway done already. What do you get?
An infinite conveyor belt of shark teeth. It's coming. Might be here already.
There's also a shorter BTN reel.
Eric and Bryan posted their galleries on Sunday. A season-opening reminder: all photos on the mgoblog photostream are Creative Commons licensed and can be used on your blog or twitter or facebook or whatever (just not sold). We just ask for a link back.
Meanwhile Roy Roundtree is pretty great y'all:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Difficult to pick any one person here since no one had more than four catches or 14 rushing attempts and Gardner threw two ugly picks in 15 attempts. Meanwhile on defense, the heavy rotation meant no one except Desmond Morgan had more than five tackles.
But… Cam Gordon looked good and his two sacks are the most statistically impressive achievement on the day. And Brennen Beyer only got credited for one sack but really had two, a sack/strip and then a plain ol' sack, both of which appear in the highlights above. On both he beat blockers. Gordon got his on (well timed, effective, finished) blitzes. Since everyone is feeling much, much better about Not Jake Ryan, Not Jake Ryan gets the nod.
Honorable Mention. Jarrod Wilson (for a guy who supposedly lost his job to Courtney Avery he was lights out); Jeremy Gallon (a couple tough catches amongst his four, and two touchdowns); Devin Gardner (okay, yeah, but Vince Young); Fitz Toussaint (looked goooood despite lack of stats); AJ Williams (provisional based on possibility he was caving in the outside of the CMU defense.)
Epic Double Point Standings.
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. The blocked punt touchdown set the tone, showed us the crazy explosiveness of Dymonte Thomas (Heiko and Ace point out that he blocked it before it even hit the punter's foot), gave us some faith that special teams might be a real asset this season, and was a Heartwarming Moment when former walk-on Joe Reynolds scored his first touchdown. So that.
Honorable mention: Desmond Morgan embodies his description in the season preview with a textbook stick of Zurlon Tipton; Cam Gordon invades the backfield to make us all feel better about Not Jake Ryan; ditto Beyer; Derrick Green rips off a 30-yarder; Reynolds brings in a tough 50-yard catch.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
Burned redshirt watch
A first-game thing to do.
On offense: De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Csont'e York, Jake Butt, and Shane Morris.
All of these make sense to me. Playing one of the freshmen wideouts makes sense, one or both running backs could help Michigan win a game this year, ditto Butt, and Morris needs blooding.
On defense: Delano Hill, Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Taco Charlton, Ben Gedeon.
Despite previous complaints about burning either LB redshirt, if Gedeon is the backup WLB I'm fine with it. He appears to be. Everyone else is obvious save Jourdan Lewis, and even if that's a debatable decision M is still redshirting two corners this year and brings in Jabrill Peppers next year. I don't think they'll be moaning about a lack of a fifth year for Lewis.
Probably redshirting: All OL, Wyatt Shallman, Jaron Dukes, Khalid Hill, Da'Mario Jones, Reon Dawson, Ross Douglas, Henry Poggi, Maurice Hurst, Mike McCray. McCray is a bit of a surprise after the number change seemingly designed to get him on special teams with Dileo. I'm very much in favor of a redshirt to get some separation here. Everyone else is obvious save maybe Hill.
[Rest after the jump]
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Brendan Gibbons||Sr*||Matt Wile||Jr||Matt Wile||Jr||Dennis Norfleet||So||Dennis Norfleet||So|
|Matt Wile||Jr||Kenny Allen||Fr*||Brendan Gibbons||Sr*||Drew Dileo||Sr||Drew Dileo||Sr|
Oh man. Despite the season-long suspension of Will Hagerup, Michigan has depth at both kicker spots and moves Dennis Norfleet into both return jobs. Brendan Gibbons will aim for a top five spot in the history of Michigan kicker accuracy; Matt Wile has established himself as a consistent B+ punter (at least), and Wile's being pushed by a freshman who's been booming them since spring practice.
This could be good. As long as they cover someone and block someone. Right. That bit.
Gibbons year by year
If BRENDAN GIBBONS continues his meteoric rise at the same rate he's improved over the last two seasons he'll be 6/6 on 60+ field goals and win the Heisman. This… is not likely. But a Groza finalist spot actually is, or would be except for the fact that Brady Hoke hates field goals. (Woo!)
Let's review: as a redshirt freshman, Gibbons was 1/5 on mostly chip-shot kicks, paving the way for other kickers to be about as bad. Michigan all but abandoned the idea of kicking field goals longer than 30 yards, and when Hoke was hired the first thing on many people's minds is "they HAVE to get a kicker, right?"
Brady Hoke gave Gibbons a hearty back-slap, transferring a millionth of a percent of his confidence to the beleaguered freshman, and lo, the next season he was 13/17 with his clutch kick winning the Sugar Bowl. As a junior, his range improved and he hit 16 of 18 field goals, including a 52-yarder. In terms of basic accuracy his 2012 was the third-best in Michigan history, behind only John Carlson in 1989 and Kicking Competency Lopata in 2007—and Lopata's long that year was 42. (MGoBlue doesn't have a long for Carlson.)
In terms of advanced stats, Michigan's field goal efficiency was 12th nationally. (Matt Wile did help out by hitting 2 of 3 long ones.) That's even more impressive when you consider that it was held down by Brady Hoke's tendency to scoff at long field goals, pull out a slab of meat, tear off a chunk, and scream "GIVE ME A FIRST DOWN OR GIVE ME DEATH!"
I may be excessively enthusiastic about Brady Hoke's aggressiveness.
Anyway, Gibbons is all but automatic now. He's tied for ninth all-time in FG% at M despite the awful start; the Hoke version of Gibbons would be a solid #1 at 83%. He should press into the upper reaches of the record book with a season similar to 2012, except that kickers are weird and can implode at any time. Brady Hoke emanates calm, though, so that is not likely to happen.
And Michigan has a great backup option in MATT WILE, who nailed a 52-yarder himself in the bowl game. He's the starting punter and kickoff guy—he can just kick things, often a great distance. Even if Gibbons shorts out Michigan will be turning to a guy who they can expect success from. So yeah, I'm breaking out the 5 even if this means I'll be building a moat if things go wrong this fall. YOLO.
[After THE JUMP: Norfleet! Norfleet! Norfleet! (Matt Wile. Terrible punt coverage.)]