Preview 2012: Special Teams

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary.

Kicker

Rating: 3

There was no greater example of Brady Hoke's ability to manufacture something out of nothing using only smirks, confidence, and home remedies from back at Yellowstone than the one-year transformation wrought in kicker Brendan Gibbons. When last we saw Gibbons, he was doing this and I was captioning like this:

brendan-gibbons-missgibbons-miss-2gibbons-miss-3

WHAT THE BALLS WHY IS THIS MAN'S PICTURE HERE

Hoke put CONFIDENCE in his BRAIN in a VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER, and brunette girls did the rest.

gibbons-vt-1gibbons-vt-2gibbons-vt-3

A year after going one of five and doinking an extra point, Gibbons hit 13 of 17 field goals and won the Sugar Bowl. His leg wasn't severely tested and it seemed like Michigan was going out of its way to avoid long field goals, but long field goals are for saps anyway.

In 2012 Gibbons should produce the same steady Garrett-Rivas-like production, pounding him a bunch of field goals under 40 yards and not taking many longer ones.

Woo!

Punter

Rating: unfathomable, or bad and then 3

will-hagerup-puntwill-hagerup-closeup

After being suspended for five of his last six games, Will Hagerup returned against Minnesota and proceeded to thunder two punts off his leg for 75 yards each. Wait. That's not an average. 37.5 yards each. Against MSU two weeks later he pounded seven punts for… 31.8 yards each. In the Ohio State game he immortalized himself with a now very funny but still-not-too-good-for-his-job-prospects GIF:

THE-MORTIFIED-PUNTER1[1]

After Hagerup shanked two Sugar Bowl punts for an average of 25 yards, Michigan finally had enough, inserting freshman Matt Wile for the remainder of the game. Season total: 29 punts for 36 yards each and one muff-induced torrent of profanity from section 44, row 16. Brendan Gibbons 2010 == Will Hagerup 2011.

Despite all that, Hoke announced he'd won the starting job a few days ago. Hopefully Hoke has executed the same sort of mind-meld with Hagerup that he did with Gibbons last year. Early signs to keep an eye out for:

  • expressing preference for redheads
  • or starting to look like Spuds McKenzie
  • or starting to look like Lynyrd Skynrd
  • or kicking the everloving hamburglar out of the ball

A return to Hagerup's freshman year performance—second only to Zoltan The Inconceivable for best all-time at M—would be worth almost eight yards a kick, and Hagerup has upside even beyond that, as a 72-yard bomb against Purdue would attest if New York copyright nazis acknowledged fair use.

Reaching that is a matter of recovering his freshman chi. That's unpredictable. Think of the Gibbons.

If Hagerup doesn't Michigan will be okay. Sophomore Matt Wile's 17 punts a year ago averaged 42 yards each. He's got a big leg—he also handled kickoffs—and was an Army AA kicker and all that. The bottom here is average.

Kickoffs and Return Units

Rating: 3

norfleetmatt-wile

Norfleet, Wile

We'll start with the kickoffs since it's uncertain how much they'll matter. The Mathlete predicts that half of all kickoffs will now be touchbacks, and I think it may be even higher as coaches decide on the safe start at the 25 over a small shot at something better.

This may be good for Michigan in the short term. They were terrible at kick returns last year, averaging just 18.4 yards an attempt. That was good for 117th. That's not a huge surprise when your top two returners were Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith, who no one will confuse with top-end athletes. Odoms is gone now and Smith seems to have lost the job to Dennis Norfleet, who is Smith except quicker than neutrinos, and Josh Furman, who is probably the fastest guy on the team not named Denard. Furman might not have much wiggle but he can fly. Michigan should improve here, for as much as it matters.

When kicking off Michigan was average a year ago and figures to be again.

gallon-neb

Hoke also worked his juju with Jeremy Gallon, who went from this

Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.

…to a solid, error-free returner. Michigan got punt returns up to 53rd nationally (9 yards each) and last season is notably free of ALL CAPS moaning about fumbles and punts left unfielded. I'm vaguely hoping we see a second guy back there, probably Dileo, against teams that go to the rugby style spread punt, but am not banking on it. This, too, should be a blank.

There is some possibility that having a dedicated special teams coach will let Michigan block some stuff or get creative on a return or finally go to the max gunner style most teams are running these days, and not HOLDING ON TO THE DAMN BALL is a constant threat. The likeliest outcome is meh all around, which fine.

Comments

JeepinBen

August 30th, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

Brian has some pretty good seats. section 44, row 16, not too shabby.

Also, no reference of Gibbons is complete without talking about his inexpensive hydration business

ijohnb

August 30th, 2012 at 2:41 PM ^

MY GOD I hate the new kickoff rule.  I did not even know that they made touchbacks now the 25 yard line.  That is even less incentive to take a chance.  Were kickoff injuries that prevalent?  I don't see why they are isloating this play as way more dangerous than the rest of football and taking out an exciting part of the game.

Drenasu

August 30th, 2012 at 5:22 PM ^

Anyone else think that at least a few teams might try to put more air under the ball and have it land just outside the goal line?  That would give the coverage team more time to get down the field due to the 5 yard head start and more hang time.  That might allow some teams to do better than average giving up the ball on the 25 yard line.

elm

August 30th, 2012 at 7:19 PM ^

You had Eric LeGrand at Rutgers and the Buffalo Bills player a few years back paralyzed on kickoffs, so it does seem that big injuries do happen.  Personally, I don't mind them nerfing kick-offs (most of the time, nothing much happens and I'll take improved safety for the few times a year kick-offs do more than lead to the team getting the ball within 10 yeards of the 20 either way.)  I'm more bothered by the changed in the on-side kick rule which seems to remove an interesting game-theory element from football, though I'm still not 100% sure what the implications will be of the changes.  (Fair catch after one bounce?  Kicking teams can't touch ball until after second-bounce if so?  I guess the 'kick it right at someone and hope to get the ball on the bounce' still works or 'sky it up 10 yards downfield and hope to catch the jump ball,' but I dunno how easy either of those plays are.)

WolverineHistorian

August 30th, 2012 at 2:41 PM ^

Kickoff returns have been GOD awful for a while now.  When was the last time we had a good one?  Darryl Stonum's kick that went all the way against Notre Dame a few years back is all I can think of. 

Field goals still make me nervous after RichRod but it's nice we're at the point now where even a chippy 20 yarder isn't an impossible task.  Hopefully Gibbons continues the good work. 

The Hagerup gif is timeless.  I think we all had the exact same look on our faces when that happened. 

Jivas

August 30th, 2012 at 3:13 PM ^

On Michigan Insider this week I thought I heard Sam mention that Furman would primarily be a lead blocker for Norfleet on returns. That is, rather than split the field in half, Norfleet would return most kicks with Furman leading the way.