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Special teams: Michigan 2018 positional rundown

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Special teams were an issue in 2017, but last year’s youth is this year’s experience with key players slated to return.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Michigan vs South Carolina Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome Michigan Wolverine fans to this (*extreme Dad pun voice*) SPECIAL edition of Maize n Brews’ positional rundowns focusing on special teams.

Michigan’s special teams were not so special in 2017 posting the worst statistical season during Harbaugh’s three-year tenure. Every statistical category worsened from 2016 except for two and only one saw improvement.

FEI

2015: 14

2016: 1

2017: 28

ST S&P

2015: 30

2016: 39

2017: 58

The numbers are telling, but 2017 still offered several glimmers of optimism and the two negative driving factors from last season are eliminated in 2018: starter turnover and inexperience.

The key returners all suffered their fair share of great and terrible moments. (Granted, this was the first year experience for the following players.) Think of the high’s and low’s of special teams last season as seasons of The Office: the high’s equate to season 4 and the low’s to the nonredeemable season 9.

While my colleague Von has provided a complete depth chart prediction, these are the players to know and their defining moments from 2017.

Quinn Nordin, Kicker

Wild Thing was one of my favorite (and most frustrating) players last season because of his fire and swagger. He just feels straight out of a movie; a combination of Ricky Vaughn from Major League (where his nickname derives) and Nigel Gruff from The Replacements kicking 60-yard nukes whilst smoking a cigarette. I’m sure Harbaugh will prevent any nicotine dependencies, but can we get one entrance like this in 2018?

Season 4 moment: 55-yard field goal against Florida OR going 5-for-5 against Rutgers

Season 9 moment: Missing an extra point at his original commitment school Penn State and three on the year.

Brad Robbins, Punter

B-Robb relieved walk-on Will Hart of his starting duties before the Purdue game and honestly didn’t play much better. The difference in play was like going from Saw V to Saw VI. Is the sixth installment actually better than the fifth? Who knows, but improvement must happen for the former 2017 No. 1 punting recruit. Also, if punting isn’t working, just have him run fakes.

Season 4 moment: Winning the starting job

Season 9 moment: Roughly every other punt

Ambry Thomas, Kick Returner

Simply put, this kid is electric. Watching Ambry Thomas live last season confirmed my belief that he is the fastest Wolverine on the team. I do not care about spring 40-yard dashes or anything like that. Live, in game, no one is touching Thomas. His rookie campaign was admirable, but nothing to write home about. In 2018, anticipate a few touchdowns between special teams and offense.

Season 4 moment: Three returns for 87 yards at Penn State

Season 9 moment: Four returns for 56 yards (14.0 yard return average) against Ohio State

Donovan Peoples-Jones, Punt Returner

It took DPJ three games to score as many return touchdowns as Jabrill Peppers did in two years and change. The rising sophomore is explosive as evident as his return against Ohio State.

However, DPJ was not immune to mental mistakes with costly drops at receiver and the muffed punt in the bowl game. As Michigan fans, we were spoiled with the secure hands of Jabrill Peppers for the better part of two seasons and it was unfair to assume a freshman could immediately fill that void. But with Peoples-Jones’ dynamic capabilities and year of experience, expect the sophomore to break out in 2018.

Season 4 moment: Two returns for 104 yards and one touchdown against Air Force

Season 9 moment: Muffed punt against South Carolina

Poll

Which member of special teams do you expect to improve the most in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Quinn Nordin
    (276 votes)
  • 18%
    Brad Robbins
    (183 votes)
  • 15%
    Ambry Thomas
    (147 votes)
  • 37%
    Donovan Peoples-Jones
    (365 votes)
971 votes total Vote Now