|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!]
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.
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
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
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.
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.