Our Michigan spring football preview series comes to an end today, as we will be talking about an intriguing area to watch in 2020 — the special teams.
From the kickers to the returners, there are several spots seemingly up for grabs. A rotation at kicker, a punter coming back from injury, and the starting punt returner leaving early for the NFL all make for interesting offseason discussion. So let’s take a closer look and see if we can make some predictions here.
Who replaces DPJ?
The only starter gone is Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was the lead punt returner his three seasons at Michigan.
During his time in Ann Arbor, Peoples-Jones returned two punts for touchdowns — one in 2017 against Air Force and one in 2018 against Nebraska. He ended his career averaging 8.3 yards per return and 20.1 return yards per game.
So who will take his spot in 2020? Will it be Ronnie Bell, who fielded eight punts last season? Or maybe it will be one of the incoming true freshmen who have speed in their game — Blake Corum, Andre Seldon, A.J. Henning, Roman Wilson and Eamonn Dennis.
If I had to make a prediction now, I would say one of the true freshmen earns the starting job. I think Henning would be the best option, but Seldon wouldn’t be a bad option either considering he is an early enrollee.
A Tale of Two ‘Starting’ Kickers
Going into the 2019 season, Chris Partridge announced Moody and Nordin were in a heated battle at kicker, and he even deemed them both “starting kickers” back in October.
The kicker rotation was unusual, and neither guy separated himself from the other. The two combined to make 72.3 percent of the team’s field goals — Moody went 6-of-9 while Nordin went 10-of-13. Nordin made just 1-of-3 from 50+ while Moody missed his lone chance. Every extra point was made, except for Nordin’s after the first touchdown against Ohio State.
So, who will actually start at kicker for Michigan this year? At this point, your guess is as good as mine. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them continue their rotation, but I personally don’t like seeing stuff like this. Pick a guy and move on.
Here Comes the Battle at Punter
Another position battle that will likely rage on into the season is at punter.
Will Hart has been the starter for most of his time in the winged helmet, but Brad Robbins, who was the original scholarship holder of the two, got back into action late last year following an injury that has kept him out since the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day of 2018.
Last Game (Jan 2018)— Brad Robbins (@__BJR03) December 1, 2019
Weight Room Injury (Mar 2018)
Rehab (Mar-Aug 2018)
Back Surgery (Aug 2018)
More Rehab (Aug 2018 - Now)
Talked about retirement (Apr 2019)
First 5.0 50+ Ball (Aug 2019)
Developed 4-6 other types of punts (Aug 2019 - Now)
First Start Back (Nov 30, 2019)
Robbins tried to make the most of his four punt attempts against Ohio State. He averaged 42.75 yards per punt, and unfortunately had one blocked. He had a long of 48 and landed one inside the 20-yard line. Overall, not a first game back, especially considering how long his absence was.
Hart, meanwhile, averaged 44.25 yards per punt, with a long of 61 (in two different games), and booted 15 balls more than 50 yards. He had a rough end to the year against Alabama, but given his experience and overall track record, the starting job will likely be his to lose heading in the new season.
Giles Runnin’ for Miles
Another starting specialist back for more is Giles Jackson, who had a pretty good year all over the field. He averaged 25.92 yards on his 24 returns. He even had a pretty memorable return to the house to begin the game against Maryland.
I fully expect Jackson to continue starting at kick returner for Michigan. He got more playing time on offense as the season went on, and he flashed great potential with the ball in his hands, whether he lined up in the slot or in the backfield. He proved as a freshman he should get more opportunities, and he will get them in 2020.
Linebacker Michael Barrett was the only other Wolverines to return a kickoff last year, and he only returned two. If Barrett takes a starting job on defense, I’d imagine the coaches turn to someone else to be the backup option. Perhaps one of the speedy true freshmen on offense can wow the coaches enough and get a few kick return opportunities.
It will be interesting to see if anything changes philosophically with Chris Partridge gone and Jay Harbaugh now serving as the full-time special teams coordinator. Harbaugh mentioned on Jon Jansen’s podcast how nothing will really change, but there’s plenty of time for that to develop.
With most everybody coming back — even if there are battles to be won — the special teams should continue to be pretty good for Michigan in 2020.