Niko Porikos grew up in an NTDP billet home. Cool story.
|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]
it could happen, maybe
Basketball decision timetables.
What is the timetable on a Moritz Wagner decision? And how does that affect other decisions, like Bielfeldt's?
Michigan should know what their 2015-16 roster is going to look like within the next few weeks. The late signing period kicks off April 15th; the NBA draft entry deadline is April 26th. Wagner and Jaylen Brown are both supposed to decide within the month, as you might expect.
Wagner is down to Michigan and staying with his professional team and could decide whenever since LeVert's status is not likely to impact him much. Brown is being recruited by a number of schools with NBA draft decisions on the docket and wants to see how the dust settles before pulling the trigger; he may wait until the 26th. And yes, Michigan appears to be seriously in the mix for him according to both Brian Snow and Sam Webb of Scout. Michigan is reputed to be in the top two but no one knows who the second team is. Normally that is a big, flashing YOU ARE LEADING indicator. In this case the situation is so fluid and close to the vest I wouldn't go that far, but I'm saying there's a chance.
Meanwhile, instate post Mike Edwards continues to Blow Up, adding offers from Pitt, Marquette, Kansas State, and SMU along with interest from Iowa, Wisconsin, and even Duke(?!). Edwards told Rivals that Michigan leads for his services($) despite not having an offer yet. If he turns into a high-major prospect and there's room I think Michigan might prefer him to a fifth year from Bielfeldt.
Michigan just got an impromptu unofficial visit from fifth-year Cornell transfer Shonn Miller, who has to leave the Ivy League if he wants to continue playing basketball. Miller, a 6'7" wing with a monster DREB rate, carried a third of Cornell's offense with reasonable efficiency a year ago. He would probably be a 4 at Michigan. Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina has also expressed interest. Given the roster composition he would need LeVert to leave to find a spot.
One man's vague priority list, assuming that Michigan has three spots for LeVert, Bielfeldt, and any potential recruits:
And of course look out for any inexplicably unrecruited sons of famous basketball coaches who can jump out of the gym. All of this will be figured out by the 26th.
SPOILERS (sort of)
Don't know if you saw this or if I'm like the 15th person to point this out, but there was an evil Doctor a few nights ago on Archer named "Zoltan Kovacs." Obviously not a coincidence. Attached is a screen cap.
(yes that is my real name)
If that is your real name, Lloyd Cargo. Obviously not a coincidence.
How special were M’s special teams last season?
M’s offense had its own issues but how awful were M’s special teams last season? How much affect did it have on M’s w/l record? To me it seemed, every game M’s special teams was grossly outplayed and might’ve been a factor in some close losses.
FEI added special teams rankings a few years ago that give you a reasonable baseline from which to start. The high variance nature of certain special teams events means you have to sanity check it, though. Let's do that. Michigan was 67th overall in a metric that doesn't respond too much to schedule strength, so they were bad but non-disastrous. By unit:
- FIELD GOALS: 52nd, slightly above average. FEI takes distance into account when valuing FGs FWIW.
- PUNT RETURNS: shockingly good at 19th for one reason: Ben Gedeon's 32-yard blocked punt return touchdown against Appalachian State. Non-Gedeon returns averaged 4.3 yards an attempt on just 13 tries. That's a good demonstration of how swingy these stats are. Minus one event against a tomato can this would be one of the worst units in the country; meanwhile one less dumb block against Maryland and it would look like one of the best.
- KICK RETURNS. Speaking of worst units in the country, Michigan finished 118th. Highly random touchdowns have an even bigger relative impact now that touchbacks are a goal of the rules. Only 16 teams were "above average" in this stat.
- PUNTING. Michigan was 97th. This is a stunning departure from their raw gross yardage, which was 28th, and yet another ringing condemnation of 1) Michigan's archaic NFL-style punting and 2) their ability to put eleven guys on the field.
- KICK COVERAGE. 30th! /waves tiny flag
Other than okay field goal kicking and a blocked punt against a Sun Belt team, Michigan was awful awful awful in all phases except kick coverage last year.
I took them to dinner and bought them a Ufer CD.
listening to past podcasts yesterday, i came across post rutgers podcast featuring hobo-quest. i assume washtenaw county is hobo free.
For those, who aren't bored enough to listen to podcasts from October, a large portion of that podcast was given over to how many hobos we would strangle for certain coaches. It turns out, Tripp, that hobo sacrifices do not have a direct impact on the outcomes of coaching searches, thus sparing me a grisly few weeks and the life in prison that would inevitably follow. I think it all worked out for the best.
News bullets and other items:
- This is not a drill: the spring game won’t be a punting competition. In Baxter’s words, “We won’t kick at all in the spring game [except] maybe field goals or something.”
- Kickers and punters are kicking into nets; kickers haven’t kicked at uprights yet. Baxter is breaking down their mechanics and rebuilding and doesn’t want them worried about results yet.
- If the list he showed us is any indication then anyone who wants to compete at kick or punt returner should get a chance. Baxter had 14 guys try returning kicks yesterday.
- Baxter didn’t go on any recruiting trips. Harbaugh instead opted for him to stay in Ann Arbor and start installing his Academic Gameplan.
What's the good news?
"There's a lot of good news. We get paid to coach a kids' game. We wear the clothes to work that you'd wear to cut the lawn, and we get paid really good to have a lot of fun so good every day."
MGoQuestion: Maurice Hurst tweeted yesterday that he's taking 18 credits and that you're helping him with that. What can you do to help someone who's taking that many credits plus has the time demands of football?
"Well, one of the things that's been kind of the subject and topic of my life's work is helping young people be effective students, so I'm not only helping him I'm helping all these guys. But that's been Coach Harbaugh's mantra since we got here is we have student athletes, okay? And it's one thing to say you have student-athletes and it's another thing to live it, so when we got off the airplane he had me install the Academic Gameplan.
“We got off the plane on- I believe it was whatever day January 8 was, but we started that Monday at 6:15 and we met every night, and he left me home all the way through recruiting. I never went out. I was here every night with our players and we installed our Academic Gameplan system, of what we call the Champions Program, and we begin laying the foundations of being effective students.
“One of the things that I've learned over time is never sell yourself short as a teacher. If we can get guys to know all the complexities of our defense and our offense and our pass protections and all those kinds of things, if I can get a guy to run 60 yards full speed into another guy [then] we can teach them how to take notes. We can teach them strategic planning. Generally that's what's happening."
How much of your day is spent doing that versus Xs and Os and on the field type of work?
"It just kind of depends. I won't speak specifically about any player, but I'm going to meet one of them tomorrow morning at 7:30 and we'll eat breakfast together and we'll look over his strategic plan and that kind of stuff, but for the most part I'd say 90% of my day is spent on Xs and Os. When it comes to the Academic Gameplan stuff, I mean, I copyrighted the program in 1999 and I've been teaching it in one form or another since I was a graduate assistant in '86 so I don't need to spend any time on it. We can get it up and running at a moment's notice."
What are some of the things that constitute the foundation or is it tailor-made to each individual?
"The foundation for academics? Okay, simple. It's really simple. They all have a planner and that planner's called a GPS, which stands for guidance, performance, and strategy and in a nutshell we don't take notes, we take answers, just like all of you are doing. You're not taking notes, you're taking answers, And it's strategic planning, prioritized daily task lists, and essentially we show them- because in college you deal with a syllabus, and basically it's how to take this chaotic world and go chaos to concept and process to product.
“It's just – it's a way to process the information that's coming in because really when – I know when I went to college I was probably not just the last generation but the last year, I graduated high school in '81 in college and '85, and never touched a computer. Never touched it one time. So I would equate it to- when I was in college we were still using encyclopedias, looking stuff up in the card catalog, and kind of drinking out of a garden hose. Now they are drinking out of a fire hydrant and you have to help them sort through that chaos if they're going to be effective students."
[After THE JUMP: A “radically different” approach to special teams]
While Baxter's name doesn't sound even a little like a law firm, he's got a ton of experience. He's 52 and started coaching in 1981, and he's had special teams in his title since 1986. From 1997 to 2009 he was a mainstay of Pat Hill's Fresno State tenure as a special teams coordinator and, depending on the year, either the TE or WR coach. His record there was excellent:
During his time, Fresno State blocked 84 kicks and punts (including a national-best 49 from 2002 through 2009) and scored 39 special teams touchdowns (with 3 safeties). The Bulldogs topped the nation in fewest punt return yards allowed in 2004 and 2005. A.J. Jefferson led the nation in kickoff returns in 2007. Clifton Smith's 189 punt return yards with 2 touchdowns against Weber State in 2005 were Fresno State game records, while his 5 career scoring punt returns also was a school mark. Six of Baxter's Bulldog kickers and punters earned All-Western Athletic Conference first team honors.
In 2010 USC hired him away to be their special teams coordinator; he would later add TE responsibilities. The results were similarly excellent:
USC was second in blocked punts and fourth in blocked kicks during the 2013 season.
The success in 2013 was hardly an anomaly, either, as Baxter had earned the 2011 FootballScoop.com Special Teams Coordinator of the Year award after overseeing a group that produced seven blocked kicks for the second consecutive year. During those two seasons, USC also managed a punt return for a touchdown, two kickoff returns for touchdowns, two converted fake punts, a converted fake field goal, and six two-point conversions.
He's also held an associate head coach title since arriving at Fresno.
Baxter received "rave reviews" and players' parents asked Steve Sarkisian to keep him on but Sarkisian preferred to import guys from his Washington staff. That didn't go so well for Sarkisian, as USC ended up tenth or worse in the Pac 12 in kickoff coverage, punting, and KO returns—punt returns were middling.
Baxter didn't coach last year after he was a casualty of the Steve Sarkisian transition, but he was seemingly sought after. He interviewed for the Colorado State head job and was high on Texas's list after Charlie Strong axed their WR and TE coach,
Baxter is also noted for his Academic Gameplan, which evidently works miracles:
When I went (to Fresno State), we were ranked 112 out of 112 in graduation rate – dead last in the country. I started doing it there, and that's about the time I realized it had nothing to do with football; it just had to do with students. I published it in '99. And I've just continued to do it ever since.
When I (first) went there, there was an average student who shouldn't have been average named Lane Kiffin going through it. I wouldn't say underperforming. But then again I would, for his intelligence level. He had back-to-back over-3.0 semesters and did great.
Michigan did good work in that department under Hoke and Baxter will help continue that.
Here's Baxter talking:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Looks good to me. Baxter has a terrific track record.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE STAFF
There's a Football Scoop report that Jimmie Dougherty is also going to be hired that may or may not be true. Given their record on Michigan events I'm going to wait until someone reputable confirms that before repeating it in earnest.
I did make a mistake on the Guessochart this afternoon, as I only listed eight assistants. Michigan does have room for both Morton and Dougherty in some configuration. I'd be a bit surprised if they added guys who were effectively both WR coaches isntead of adding another defensive assistant or give Drevno some aid on the OL, but as it stands there's not much chatter about other guys. The current guess:
|OC||Tim Drevno||lock||DC||DJ Durkin||lock|
|QB||Jim Harbaugh||lock||DL||Greg Mattison||lock|
|WR||John Morton||probable||OLB/DE||Roy Manning||probable|
|TE||Jimmie Dougherty||probable||ST||John Baxter||lock|
Steve Lorenz is reporting that all of this is just about done($), FWIW, with Jackson "confirmed" and Manning "very likely."
UPDATE: Webb($) and Lorenz are both reporting Jackson is done. Updated him.
HIGHLY IMPORTANT UPDATE
Yes, he's a spread punt guy.
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Matt Wile||Sr||Will Hagerup||Sr*||Kenny Allen||So*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr||Dennis Norfleet||Jr|
|Alex Mitropoulos-Rundus||Jr*||Kenny Allen||So*||Matt Wile||Sr||Dennis Norfleet||Jr||Raymon Taylor||Sr|
MATT WILE finally ascends to the starting job at kicker after a patient three-year apprenticeship while filling in at punter and kickoff specialist. We have very little to go on when it comes to field goals; he's spent the last couple years as the long-range specialist, hitting 50% from ranges such as 48, 49, and 52 before hitting a couple chip shots in the bowl game.
Kickers are weird and I can't predict kickers, because you can't predict molecules of air. That said, Wile will probably be fine. He's done a lot of kicking-type activities that didn't include field goals over the course of his time at Michigan and he's been consistently effective. Once you get past the bare physical minimums, consistency is your watchword and lifeblood; Wile has that. As the kickoff guy last year he eschewed blasting 'em through the endzone, instead trying to leave them high, short, and to one sideline. That ended up not being a great idea, but it wasn't because of Wile. That effort speaks well to his ability to put footballs in specific places after they come off his foot and is the closest thing to analysis you can get for a kicker no one has seen.
This section very well could have been "dunno; is kicker," I know. He should be fine to very good. But is kicker, dunno.
Unlike last year, Michigan is short on options after Wile. JJ McGrath transferred to Mississippi State this offseason, leaving previously obscure walk-on ALEX MITROPOULUS-RUNDUS as the second option. He was not real good in the closed spring scrimmage; when they brought him out to kick a few field goals he missed a bunch in a row. It got to the point that when he hit one it felt like a bronx cheer erupted from the rest of the team. Viva Wile.
[After THE JUMP: Norfleet! Peppers! I hope they matter!]
Unlike other UFRs you may have read, this one comes with about 20x the NORFLEET! Michigan kickoffs were on Tuesday. Here's kick returns.
Michigan's deep set is usually Gedeon, Houma and Rawls then Dileo as a lead blocker (sets up opposite side of the field in case it goes there), and Norfleet returning. Houma and Rawls double the first guy to arrive while Gedeon's job is to wall off the second arrival so there's a hole between them. Up high it's like everybody else: four guys start just past the 50, two on the 40. Their job is to run downfield, then find somebody to hit and sustain that block. I'm sure Space Coyote is going to have a name for this but here's what it looks like:
After his injury Drake Johnson was replaced by Ross (vs ND) or Furman (elsewise). They change it up a lot up front. When Funchess was hurt Jackson folded back there. Hayes and Chesson rotated in at times.
Ball arrives after the...