The Michigan Wolverines had to replace plenty of talent on special teams this past offseason when Mr. Do-It-All — placekicker, kickoff specialist, and punter — Kenny Allen graduated.
Not only that, but Jabrill Peppers’ ability to turn seemingly negative yards or fair catch at best into a positive return was something few others in the country could do.
The Wolverines tried, and struggled, for the most part last season with shaky punting, kicking, and yes, even returning at times.
Entering a season in which — due to a gauntlet of a schedule — special teams could win or lose games, consistent production at the three key areas of place kicking, punting and returning is paramount.
With that being said, let’s discuss the five biggest questions heading into the season concerning special teams play.
Can Quinn Nordin become a weapon for the offense?
It’s no secret Quinn Nordin has a cannon for a leg. In his first game appearance last year, Nordin nailed a STRIKE against the Florida Gators as many of you will remember and in fact, consistently delivered for the first half of the season.
But things took a turn for the worse and Nordin started tapering off, and to make matters worse, even missed several extra points. Most notably on the road against Penn State.
But Quinn has promise, and despite those struggles he looks to use this offseason as a springboard into becoming the talented kicker that he was recruited to be.
With Stephen Curry-like range, it makes the offenses job so much easier. He has the ability to hit 60+ yarders on a regular basis, and if he can hone into that once the offense crosses mid-field, they’re almost guaranteed a shot at points. Not many other teams in the nation can say that.
Who will step up as the starting punter?
The Wolverines struggled mightily finding a punter that could consistently pin teams within their 20 yard line. Which isn’t much to ask if you look at where other teams are in the Big Ten and in the rest of the nation.
With test runs from Will Hart, and the majority of the responsibility falling on Brad Robbins’ shoulders, a starting punter that had consistent ability was still never found.
This offseason and fall camp are crucial for Michigan this season. The Wolverines desperately need a punter who doesn’t have to be elite, but who can consistently get the ball away, not shank it on a regular basis and flip the field at a decent rate.
Should they be able to settle on a punter who can do that — whether it be Will Hart, Brad Robbins or someone else — is a major boost to the teams’ ceiling.
Who will be the best return man?
Again, another area where Michigan struggled during the 2017-18 campaign was in the return game. More specifically though, in punt returns.
This was highlighted in an early-season muff by Donovan Peoples-Jones against Cincinnati. It wasn’t just Donovan, though. The other return men that were trotted out on fourth down didn’t do much better if we are being honest.
The Maize and Blue don’t necessarily need a game-changer fielding kicks and punts, but just someone who can consistently catch the ball and turn out just a few positive yards. Whether that be Peoples-Jones — who did improve in punt returning as the season progressed — sophomore Ambry Thomas or another candidate, the fact is if they can find that kind of player, it again would be another huge aid to the offense.
Can lightning strike twice in the kickoff game?
James Foug was a little known player before last season started, but quickly he endeared himself to the Michigan faithful by placing kickoffs with pinpoint accuracy as Tiger Woods lands a chip shot within five feet.
But unfortunately, James has graduated and while we wish him the best in his pursuits, his ability to be a true difference maker many teams don’t have will be missed. Who is the likely candidate to replace Foug and hopefully catch lightning in a bottle for the second year in a row?
Quinn Nordin. Nordin has been taking reps as the kickoff specialist in camp based on various reports from the Michigan beat, and from the sounds of it he is very confident he has the ability and the skill to replicate what Foug was able to do.
With the ability to put the opposing offense in tough field position on nearly every kickoff, what an assist to the defense it would be if this works out.
Where are the trick plays?
Michigan has never run too many trick plays on offense under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and the same can be said for its special teams, too.
While the Wolverines have done a great job defending the fake field goal and fake punt over the last few years, they have yet to incorporate it in their game plan.
In a season that, as we mentioned earlier, has a gauntlet of a schedule, pulling a few tricks out of the bag wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and is something opposing teams wouldn’t be expecting due to the lack of it being called.
With the athletes that’re on this team, you’d have to think getting these guys out in space on a fake punt, fake field goal or other trickeration, would be a great way to utilize them.