Preview 2014: Special Teams Comment Count

Brian August 29th, 2014 at 11:21 AM

Previously: Podcast 6.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety.

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

Kicker

Wile first FG[1]

Rating: 4

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!]

Punter

Rating: 4

um29[1]

He's back: after a year in the wilderness spent with, I don't know, cleansing elixirs and such, WILL HAGERUP returns to the field. Hagerup has the potential to be the best punter in the history of the program. When he truly gets ahold of a punt, it goes an enormous distance to the shock of the returner; multiple times in the open scrimmages he drew respectful applause from the assembled fans when he blasted a ball 60, even 70 yards. #B1G

Hagerup in fact already holds the record for season punting average; his 33 punts as a junior averaged 45 yards a pop, tied with Monte Robbins (1987) and a half-yard in front of the Space Emperor Zoltan Mesko (2009) himself. Then he's fourth on the list as well for his freshman year.

(Aside: holy crap, Monte Robbins. Robbins three seasons as punter saw him average 45, 43.6, and 43.6 yards a punt, tied for first and fourth all time; in each season he hit a 70 yarder, with 1986 featuring an 82-yard punt(!). He has the longest two punts in the history of the program, and three of the four 70 yarders. The other is Hagerup's.)

There are two issues with that stat as we try to project this season, though. One: Matt Wile had nine pooch punts in 2012 year that would have dragged down Hagerup's average. Two: the year we haven't mentioned featured Hagerup shanking every other ball to the tune of a miserable 36 yards an attempt; he was also suspened for the first four games that year and yanked in the Sugar Bowl when the shanks just became too much. This should probably go here as well.

THE-MORTIFIED-PUNTER1[1]

If he has it together he's going to be great; this is not something we can rely on. Hopefully the season-long suspension has clarified things for him, because there is a 20-year NFL job waiting for him if he puts the ball off the center of his foot consistently.

WILE is likely to reprise his role as the pooch punter. He has been very effective at it; there's this thing punters are doing these days with the drop of the ball that gives it a ton of hangtime and backspin that he's doing. It works. It's impossible to separate the pooch punts out from his season as the full-time guy in 2013, but in 2012 he put all but two of his pooch punts inside the 20 and lost only one to the endzone. Last year he put 16 inside the 20 and had just two touchbacks(!) in 61 punts. He's a useful guy to have around.

Michigan also has KENNY ALLEN [hello post], who got some of that respectful applause last offseason. He appears to have a booming leg himself, will take over the kickoffs job from Wile, and is highly likely to be Michigan's punter the next couple years. If Hagerup turns into Shanky McPunterson again, he will deputize ably.

RETURN UNITS: CANNAH GET A HOT TUB

Rating: 4

8062749596_95ec6935da[1]Jabrick[1]

LET'S GOOOOOOOO

Peppers peppers peppers peppers peppers. And so forth. Yes, JABRILL PEPPERS is going to return punts, because lol.

This is a bit weird because usually the freshman who can run like dickety is immediately inserted on kickoff returns, not punts. A muffed punt is gonna be a bad time. A muffed kickoff is usually a touchback; at worst it costs you ten yards of field position. But I ain't arguing.

No, sir. When you absolutely have to break 16 tackles en route to the endzone, Jabrill Peppers is your guy.

Unfortunately, this isn't the 2000s. In just the last five years, punt return rate has dropped from 41% to 33% as the spread punt's tendrils reach across the nation, and the drop would be much more drastic than that if you took touchbacks out of the equation. These days it's harder to get your hands on a ball and easier to keep it away from the threat du jour. Steve Breaston would be rugbied out of many games if he played today. Peppers's impact would be greater if he played in an NFL-punting world.

But that's not to say he can't have an impact. Michigan was completely terrible at returning punts last year. Take out a 30-yard Joe Reynolds "return" that was actually him running back the punt Dymonte Thomas blocked in the opener and Michigan's numbers for the year are appalling: 18 attempts for 84 yards, 4.7 an attempt, 106th nationally. Alabama, Oklahoma, and USC tripled that.

It still seems likely that Peppers is going to get relatively few opportunities and get snowed under by seven gunners a lot, but then there's that video. Let 'er rip.

DENNIS NORFLEET maintains his role as the kick returner; he is also the #2 option on punts. (I am hoping we see a Peppers/Norfleet version of the two-returner formation we saw occasionally last year against spread punt outfits.) Last year he was perpetually one step away from breaking it long before he got tackled by the shoe-strings, and to hold off Peppers speaks to the coaches' faith that he will eventually do something ridiculous back there.

Kick return stats aren't very useful because they get distorted so heavily by chance events. FEI's KO rankings digression from last year:

You can tell how much variance is in kick returns just by M's number. Despite being 10% worse than average, they were 52nd nationally. IE: above-average. Kick return ratings are all basically "did you break a huge one."

Norfleet was an immediate improvement on the kick return situation in the way Peppers is hoped to be—the year before he got the job Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith combined to finish almost dead last nationally. He got Michigan up to about average; Michigan remained about average (49th) last year.

A lot of this has to do with poor blocking. Unfortunately, I don't clip bad returns, but more than once this year Norfleet was presented with a wall of opponents inside his own 20. Michigan has been a young, thin team for most of the Hoke era and this has shown up on special teams, where a lot of freshman and sophomores are not getting their blocks  right. Hopefully your fullback and tight end and linebacker types have aged to a point where they'll be better at paving the way. Norfleet has the moves to make two or three guys miss…

Five is beyond anyone's capabilities.

Kickoff And Punt Coverage

Rating: 1

This was a one last year and things did not improve. Michigan was 103rd in kick return average ceded, and that was with Matt Wile voluntarily leaving a lot of kicks high and short and in one corner—ie, the best possible environment to cover a kick. They didn't even give up a touchdown to depress their stats; this was not one or two spectacular breakdowns but rather consistently poor play.

Michigan was less thoroughly miserable covering punts than they were in 2012, when Hagerup boomers would often end with the opponent catching a ball with literally no one within 20 yards of him.

vlcsnap-2012-09-03-20h51m14s111_thumb

Also:

vlcsnap-2012-09-03-22h41m26s162_thum

They were middling at punt return yardage allowed but again that number does not do justice to how bad they are at covering punts. They were again in the bottom ten nationally in the number of punts that generated returns. 45% of Matt Wile's kicks were taken back. Michigan got away with it, finishing 46th in yards per punt. If Hagerup's booming them, that might lead to some ugly numbers as two guys try to make good on that distance.

They have been young, and that is a mitigating factor. If Michigan doesn't block and cover better this year I am going to start grumbling about Dan Ferrigno.

Comments

ND Sux

August 29th, 2014 at 11:31 AM ^

All of this content is excellent and perfectly timed for my football fix (many thanks Brian), and JABRILL PEPPERS! 

TIMMAAYYYY (sp), please post your dancing peppers gif again.  Thanks

creelymonk10

August 29th, 2014 at 11:38 AM ^

One thing I don't understand is Hoke's loyalty to the tight punt formation. With all the stats and numbers screaming at you to move to the spread punt, please adjust accordingly or it will bite us in the ass.

InterM

August 29th, 2014 at 1:58 PM ^

It was "let's have our punter run sideways while kicking, even though we haven't practiced it, in a desperate attempt to avoid another blocked punt".  And if I remember correctly, that was 2003 (the Oregon game particularly sticks in my mind), and Hoke was at Ball State by then.

True Blue Grit

August 29th, 2014 at 11:45 AM ^

since he got here.  Tremendous talent on the one hand offset by frustrating blunders on and off the field.  Perhaps this is HIS year and all the problems are finally behind him.  The 70 yard boot in the scrimmage at least is some cause for optimism.  If he finally has turned the corner, our kicking game should be fine this season.  I have to say though I'm not a fan of those shorter Wile "aimed kicks".   It's like Hoke has no confidence in our coverage guys to tackle the return guy.  I really wish he'd just kick the crap out of them through the endzone. 

MGoRob

August 29th, 2014 at 11:51 AM ^

The punk coverage just makes me sad.  When presented with facts, why can't the coaches see one formation is vastly superior to the other?  Are they presented with these facts?  Do they even care?  Mind blowingly sad.

At least on the receiving end we have two players that I'm been sorely missing since Breaston-a-plooza.

edit: looks like creelymonk10 beat me to it.  Took too long to type.

umchicago

August 29th, 2014 at 12:37 PM ^

i would always use a back up QB.  if you don't, you practically take away the chance for a fake; at least by a pass.  i do remember a successful dileo fake when he plowed into the line.  and we will always have the NW slide hold.

ND Sux

August 29th, 2014 at 12:47 PM ^

the announcer (I think Glen Mason, who I like), screws up the call by saying it was Dileo who caught the pass also.  The ball was CLEARLY caught by Gallon...Dileo was on the other side of the field.  Even after two or three replays though, Mason still says Dileo caught the pass. 

Edit: not nearly as annoying as the morons calling the Penn State game with their "BRANDON Gibbons" crap.  All game long...never got his name right ONCE. 

Quailman

August 29th, 2014 at 11:53 AM ^

Is Mitropolous-Rondus really the back-up placekicker? Thats a big kicker. 

Didn't Kenny Allen also kick in HS? Wouldn't he be a better option should something happen with Wile?

Monocle Smile

August 29th, 2014 at 11:53 AM ^

The stupid, stupid dinosaur punt bullshit never ceases to be maddening. You'd think being terrible on both sides of the return game would make Ferrigno take a look at what our opponents are doing, but of course not because it's 1990 and playing football the "right way" is more important than getting shit done.

reshp1

August 29th, 2014 at 12:03 PM ^

I saw the Hagerup scrimmage punt and it was a thing of beauty. I was watching something else and you could hear the difference between his punts coming off of his foot and others. The ball was as tight of a spiral as any throw and just kept rising and rising, it was not a line drive by any stretch.

If he can consistently strike the ball even 90% that well in games it will be a big advantage for us in field position.

GrowBlue

August 29th, 2014 at 12:24 PM ^

Assuming that Shane is not red-shirting this year, I think he should be the FG holder. As a QB (and he's a lefty holding for a right footed kicker) it would open up some good fake options.

umchicago

August 29th, 2014 at 12:39 PM ^

i'm a huge advocate of the short man on the punt return (no pun intended to norfleet).  he can serve two purposes - 1) field the short punt; 2) he can block the first man downfield.

Michigan Arrogance

August 29th, 2014 at 1:15 PM ^

I can't imagine having a better punting situation than what we have now- an A punter in Haggerup who is a 5th year SR and a capable, reliable and consistent back up who did a solid job last year in Wile.

And a 4 at FG is a bit much for an unproven guy at FGs under 35 yards. 

I also thought 5 was a bit much at QB, but whatevs/

echoWhiskey

August 29th, 2014 at 5:33 PM ^

  • Scared punter gif is still amazing - and only because it did not cost us the game.
  • That first alabama screenshot shows countess just before getting hit and tearing his ACL.  Ugh, still bothers me.