Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 119 of 179

118 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW SPECIAL TEAMS BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan football's losses to gradu- ation this year included a kickoff specialist, a punter and a placekicker … and they all happened to be the same guy. It's the ultimate compliment to say it will take more than one man to replace a departing player, and in Kenny Allen's case it's accurate. Allen averaged 43.3 yards per punt, made 19 of 23 field goals and booted 51 of 84 kickoffs through the end zone last year. Special teams coaches Chris Partridge, Jay Harbaugh and Michael Zordich have three primary candidates to handle kicking duties in redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin, redshirt sophomore Ryan Tice and redshirt junior Kyle Seychel, and a fourth — junior James Foug — is in the mix to handle kickoffs. Of them, Nordin is the only one on scholar- ship, and he impressed this spring, especially in the spring game where his 48-yard field goal might have been good from 68. Yet he's got plenty of competition from both Tice and Seychel for kicking duties, former Michigan kicker Brandon Kornblue said. Kornblue, who now runs Kornblue Kicking School based in Florida with camps all over the country, has worked extensively with all three and believes the Wolverines' coaches have plenty to choose from. "I don't just say this lightly — there are three really good kickers competing for that job right now," he said. "And then you've got Foug, who is a really good kickoff guy. People forget that [longtime NFL kicker] Jay Feely only kicked field goals for one year at Michi- gan [in 1998]. It depends on the situation. "If Seychel and Tice are making every kick in practice, they're going to put those guys in. Nordin could be 90 percent, but if those guys are 95 percent, that's where the head coach has to make a tough decision." It's not unprecedented, either, that one kicker could be called upon for the shorter kicks and another for the long ones. Ideally, though, one man will win the job and find a comfort zone that allows him to be successful. Nordin, Rivals.com's No. 1 kicker in 2016, has the most upside. The 6-1, 205-pounder has NFL length and leg strength, and it was on dis- play during the spring game when he wowed those in attendance with his big kick. "That's the potential and talent he has, and that made him such a highly regarded guy very early on," Kornblue said. "Having that ability is not common. You don't find that every day. That's what coaches look for. However, you have to be able to do that consistently, under pressure and when it counts. "The process for a kicker takes time. It's very rare that someone steps in right away, and having that redshirt year [last season] was very, very critical. "I was hoping Kenny would step up and fill that role for that year, not just because he was very good but also because he was a fifth-year guy. He also had the mental experience." Nordin is still getting there, but he's young. "He's on the right track," Kornblue said. "He's made great improvement and strides from his senior year until now. He's the front- runner, but he's got very strong competition be- hind him. By no means is he a lock for the job." That's because both Seychel and Tice kicked well this spring, too. Seychel — a Brighton, Mich., native — first joined the team as a walk-on in 2014. The red- shirt junior hit a game-winning 31-yard field goal as time expired to give the Maize team a 31-29 win in the spring game. "I thought he was a super talented guy com- ing out of high school that was just unknown," Kornblue recalled of his first experience with Seychel. "He didn't go to lot of college camps, so there was not much buzz about him. "His first spring he was one of the surprise guys that came on and really impressed. For whatever reason, he decided to take a step back from football and concentrate on academics. He needed a break from football. "But talent-wise on field goals, he has the potential to be as good as anyone out there." Tice, from nearby Saline (Mich.) High School, essentially came out of nowhere, as well, a soccer player who decided to give placekicking a try. Kornblue helped mold him, and the transition was nearly seamless. "He'd never really been coached," Kornblue recalled. "He was super raw, but in less than a year he was really very consistent and doing a great job. "Consistency-wise, he has been incredible. The amount of height and ball rotation he got on extra points in the games he played in last year was great. In terms of game experience, he might even have the edge." Specialty Makeover Kickers And Return Men Will Be All New In 2017 He missed on his one and only field goal attempt, however, in a tight game with Wis- consin, otherwise he might have supplanted Allen last year … or at least gotten more op- portunities. Tice and Seychel will both have opportu- nities to kick off, as well, though Kornblue believes that will end up being a battle between Nordin and Foug. Foug played in three games last year and averaged 57.5 yards per kickoff, with two of eight going for touchbacks. "Nordin definitely has the higher ceiling, but Foug is very consistent," Kornblue reported. "And again, he's older. He might be a bit more consistent. "Generally speaking, Quinn has NFL po- tential, while Foug has shown he can get the ball to a D-I level on kickoffs. He just doesn't necessarily have an NFL leg." A Freshman May Win The Punting Competition Michigan relied on a walk-on, sophomore Will Hart, to handle punting duties in the spring, and he performed well, averaging 39.5 per kick in the spring game with a long of 49. The U-M coaches had planned to search PRESEASON ANALYSIS: RUNNING BACKS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There will be a new kicker, a new long snap- per, new return men, and several new players on the coverage and return teams. The good news — all are very highly recruited and ex- tremely talented. However, it's hard to expect this unit to be a strength from the get-go with so many new faces in the lineup. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ All of the kickers are capable, but there's not much depth behind freshman punter Brad Rob- bins. U-M does have a pair of capable long snap- pers, it appears, and no shortage of dynamic playmakers for the return teams. Whoever wins the return jobs will have earned it and should be very good. X-FACTOR How are the placekickers going to kick when the game is on the line? Early on, perhaps even in the opener with Florida, a field goal or two could determine the outcome. No matter who wins the job, he won't be judged until his first kick under pressure. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Like almost all other positions on the team, there are so many unknowns that it's impos- sible to know what to expect. It's unlikely the punt return game will be as good as 2016, but there was room for improvement in the kick return game. The kickers are unknowns. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. ★

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