Special teams in college can always be an up-and-down ride, especially in the field goal department. Michigan hopes to have one of the stronger units in the Big Ten, with starters returning at both kicker and punter and a number of capable return men.
Here are five questions surrounding the special teams unit:
Who will be the starting kicker?
Michigan technically returns two starters here, as both Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin have been the man here. Nordin has all the talent in the world, but after a shaky stretch last season, lost to job to Moody, who has been extremely solid in his place.
Last year, Nordin went 11-for-16 on field goals, with a long of 50 yards, while connecting on 45-of-46 extra points. Moody was 10-for-11 on field goals and made all five of his extra points.
It wouldn’t be a total shocker to see Michigan use Nordin on field goals that are 45 yards or longer and Moody on everything else, but assuming the Wolverines stick to a traditionally one-man only, our best guess is Moody retains the job.
How secure is Will Hart’s job as punter?
Hart came on to become one of the league’s best punters last season after taking the job away from Brad Robbins after he went down with an injury. He’s coming into the season as the reigning starter, and averaged 47 yards per punt last season on 43 punts.
His job should be safe, but Robbins has had some nice moments in a Michigan uniform and was very highly touted coming into college. He averaged 40.4 yards on 64 punts as a freshman.
Robbins is a fine player, but the answer to the question is easy. Hart has the position locked down.
Will Donovan Peoples-Jones continue to return punts?
There’s always the possibility that Jim Harbaugh and company could decide that their star wide receiver is too important to have returning punts, given the high injury risk. However, Harbaugh left Jabrill Peppers in despite his importance to the defense and I don’t see any reason why he’d make a change now with Peoples-Jones. Now, he’s certainly no Peppers, but Peoples-Jones has been a quality return man, and had one return touchdown in 2018.
Last year he returned 25 punts for 250 yards and a score.
The only way Peoples-Jones isn’t than man returning punts is if one of the young up-and-comers is simply better at it. Mike Sainristil has blazing speed and could be an option, as could Ronnie Bell.
With Ambry Thomas out, who is U-M’s main kick returner?
Last year, Thomas was the team’s leading kickoff return man, bringing back 19 kicks for 412 yards and a touchdown. No other player had more than three returns.
That will change this year, with Thomas out indefinitely due to colitis.
The lead candidates would again seem to be Bell and Sainristil, who are both fast and elusive. Bell returned two kicks for 53 yards last year and would figure to be one of the two guys out there regardless. Giles Jackson is another young guy with speed and there’s a chance Peoples-Jones could be used as a kick returner, but given the risk, would be surprising. Brad Hawkins would be another name to watch.
Will Michigan have more than 2 punt/kick return touchdowns in 2019?
This is more of a fun one. Last season, the Wolverines had one punt return touchdown and one kick return touchdown (by Peoples-Jones and Thomas).
Can they top that mark this season? Peoples-Jones is back and will have plenty of opportunities to return punts given U-M’s strong defense and no matter who is returning kickoffs, there will be plenty of speed.
It’s a tall task, one that I’ll say no to, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments.