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Jay Harbaugh names players in contention for kick, punt return duties

The Wolverines are as deep here as they have ever been.

Penn State v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines have plenty of questions to answer ahead of the Sept. 4 opener against Western Michigan on offense and defense, but also in a third phase of the game as well.

Special teams can make or break a football game in terms of winning the field position battle. The Wolverines think they can make that happen in the kicking game with both Jake Moody and Brad Robbins set to get the nod at kicker and punter, respectively. How they flip the field in the return game is still something that is being sorted out.

“It’s a group effort in terms in terms of punt return and kick return,” tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh said on Thursday. “It’s about a lot more than that guy, whoever that is, back there. We have a lot of talented guys on our team right now that are dangerous with the ball in their hands and it’s a full 11-person effort to make that guy look really good. I like where we are at. We still have some work to do before the first game but the goal will obviously be to be explosive in that phase.”

So who are those candidates right now? There’s a heck of a lot of them, but all are names that check the boxes for what they are looking for.

“It’s a pretty good size group,” Harbaugh said. “We’re a little bit deeper than we have been in terms of guys who have the ability to field a ball and have ball-carrier skills. Guys like Blake Corum, A.J. (Henning), Roman Wilson, Ronnie Bell. Michael Barrett’s done it before. Brad Hawkins has done it before. Eamonn Dennis. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had that many guys who are legit speed guys that can make people miss and set up blocks and stuff like that, so it’s exciting. You can only play two of them at a time — in kick return, obviously — and one on punt return. It’s nice to have a little more depth than we have. Mike Sainristil is another one, too.”

For those doing the math at home, that’s eight players named for three spots available. It’s hard to get a read on who the leaders are, but that will no doubt be a focus during the first game week even after camp has broken.

Michigan and Western Michigan do battle on Sept. 4 in a noon kickoff in Ann Arbor.