Last season was an interesting one for Michigan football’s special teams unit. Quinn Nordin was the starter for most of the year, but Jake Moody came in and played well when Nordin went out with injury. Meanwhile, walk-on Will Hart grabbed the starting position by the horns after Brad Robbins was injured for the entire season.
On the flip side, Donovan Peoples-Jones handled most of the punt return duties while Ambry Thomas took the majority of the kick returns.
Some things are bound to change, so let’s make some predictions as to who will be starting for the special teams for Michigan in 2019.
Starting kicker — Quinn Nordin, RS JR
Nordin can be summed up by one of Katy Perry’s best songs — Hot and Cold.
The Rockford, Michigan native started off his career with a bang in 2017 against Florida, hitting on two 50+ yard field goals and two other field goals. But then a cold streak came after missing an extra point against Penn State — and that bad streak continued throughout most of the rest of that season.
In 11 games last year, he was 11-of-16 from field goals and missed just one extra point. He missed the final three games of the season, giving Moody an opportunity to show what he can do.
Now that he’s healthy and ready to roll, Nordin seems to be the pencil-in starter in 2019. But if he struggles like he did during that stretch in 2017, Moody could very easily overtake him again for the starting role.
Backup kicker — Jake Moody, SO
Playing in the final three games of the season, Moody made the most of his opportunities. He went 10-of-11 on field goals — with a long of 48 yards — and did not miss any extra points. He looked poised for a true freshman kicker, especially with how late into the season he heard his name called.
Like I said previously, Moody will be the one to replace Nordin if something weird happens. But until then, I think Moody will begin the 2019 season by handling kickoff duties, as he did all of last year. Michigan is definitely in good hands at the kicker position.
Starting punter — Will Hart, RS JR
Going into the 2018 season, most Michigan fans were probably nervous Hart was the starting punter, but man, it worked out well.
Hart averaged 47 yards per punt, with a long of 65 yards, 19 punts that went for 50 yards or more, and 15 punts that landed at or inside the 20-yard line. He was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s best punter. He also won Big Ten Punter of the Year and was a First-Team All-Big Ten player.
He will have some competition, but because of how good he was last season, I’d be shocked if Hart wasn’t the starter in 2019.
Backup punter — Brad Robbins, RS SO
Robbins lost the entire 2018 season due to injury, so it will be interesting to see how quickly, if at all, he can compete to get back onto the field.
He played in 10 games in 2017 as a redshirt freshman, relieving Hart after the first three games. Robbins was the starter the rest of the season, but Hart did handle one punt against South Carolina after Robbins struggled a bit in that game.
I don’t expect to see much of Robbins in 2019, barring an injury to Hart.
Starting kick/punt returners — Mike Sainristil, FR; Donovan Peoples-Jones, JR
Thomas was the starting kick returner last year, but due to his increase in defensive responsibilities this year, he likely will give way to someone else on kickoffs, and I think it will be freshman receiver Mike Sainristil.
Running somewhere in the 4.5’s in his 40-yard dash, Sainristil is speedy enough to outrun pretty much anyone. And with the way he has been impressing everyone since enrolling early, I think he can seamlessly take over this spot.
Meanwhile, I think DPJ will remain in the same role he has been in since his freshman year. He has big strides, is shifty and is pretty good at reading the field when returning a punt. I wouldn’t be shocked to see his role diminish a bit, given how important the receivers are about to become this year, but look for DPJ to keep on rollin’ on punt returns for now.
Backup kick/punt returners — Ronnie Bell, SO
I am calling my shot right now — Bell is going to have a breakout season on offense. BUT he will also have a big impact on special teams, taking one kick/punt to the house. (I got inspired after editing Jared’s 5 bold predictions article, so I just had to throw this in here).
Bell fielded two punts last season, going for 53 yards. He also took two kicks back for seven yards. Nothing impressive by any means, but he will likely get more opportunities in 2019. If he makes the most of those opportunities, Bell could push for the starting role as soon as this season.