One of the position units in football that sometimes gets overlooked is the special teams.
They are in the game much less than others, but can make or break a game, or even a season.
Michigan struggled last year in special teams with freshmen looking to find their identity and build their confidence at this level.
Through four games, this is one of the more improved units compared to 2017, and is trending to continue that this season.
I took a look at some of the stats from last year and who was part of that group.
Brad Robbins (Punter, 10 games played)
64 punts, 40.4 yard average
Quinn Nordin (Kicker, 13 games played)
Extra points: 35/38 (92.1 percent)
Field goals: 19/25 (79.2 percent)
Donovan Peoples-Jones (Punt returns, 13 games played)
40 returns, 320 yards, one touchdown
It looked like he was also having ongoing issues with punt decisions and when to call it a fair catch or not.
The youth in this group showed last year and at times looked very inexperienced, which was certainly expected to an extent.
The game-time decisions and lack of progress over last year was something that was a question going into fall camp. The staff was very excited about this group and knew they could see improvement in 2018 and make an impact.
Fast forward four games and there are improved stats at every position.
Will Hart (Kicker)
11 punts, 579 yards, 52.64 yards average.
After having an average of 43 yards in the Notre Dame game, he’s averaged over 50 yards per punt in the last three games. He had three over 50 yards against Nebraska last Saturday with his longest punt at 64 yards.
Will Hart’s 59.3-yard average yesterday is the best single-game punting performance in U-M history with a minimum of three punts.— Michael Spath (@MichaelSpathITH) September 23, 2018
Quinn Nordin (Kicker)
Extra points: 21/22 (95.5 percent)
Field goals: 4/5 (80 percent)
Donovan Peoples-Jones (Punt returns)
8 returns, 83 yards, 10.4 average, one touchdown
He also earned him Big Ten co-special teams player of the week after his performance against Nebraska.
What has changed?
I think it’s a combination of a few things that’s causing this group to have a successful season. Obviously, blocking and protection must be solid on punts and returns, while avoiding penalties. You also see some amazing kickoff returns by Ambry Thomas with five so far, averaging 32.8 yards with a touchdown compared to 2017 at an average of 19.8 yards on 20 returns.
You also are likely saying their opponents haven’t been all that tough after Notre Dame. I’m very impressed with the punt average of more than 10 yards compared to 2017. Knowing Will Hart has kept improving his average with three over 50 yards against Nebraska. It’s promising to know he can help pin opponents deep and make their drives longer against this tough defense.
There is also a theme that communication is improving, which is very good to hear this early in the season. I think the staff is excited to see the amount of progress and improvement already with a team that’s maturing in front of their eyes more each week.
I’d say some of the concerns heading into this season is becoming less and less each week, showing signs this team is preparing for the gauntlet in the second half of the season.