Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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10 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW MICHIGAN FOOTBALL New special teams coach John Baxter has been successful wherever he's been, and those familiar with his reputation are confident he'll get the job done in Ann Arbor, too. Former Michigan kicker Bran- don Kornblue, who now runs the well- respected Kornblue Kicking Camp in Florida (and will hold a camp at Michigan in June, like he has the last several years), believes Baxter will take U-M's special teams to heights they haven't been in the last few decades. "He's unique and does some different things, so I'm not sure what the punting and other parts of special teams will look like this year," Kornblue said. "He is more knowledgeable than a lot of other special teams coaches, though, and has that back- ground. "When you look at Michigan's special teams over the past 15, 20 years, there hasn't been anything stand out, blocked kicks or anything. In his office he has notes written like 'last blocked kick, last return for touchdown' with dates, and there's not much there. He's going for all that kind of stuff, and hopefully he'll make a difference." Kornblue doesn't know Baxter per- sonally and hasn't worked with him, but several he respects have sung Baxter's praises. "I know he's been around a long time and he has a good reputation," Kornblue said. "I've asked other special teams coaches what they think of him, and they've given positive reviews, as well. I think he's going to be good, but again, he's a little bit different. But Jim Harbaugh is different with the way he approaches things, too." Like many special teams coaches, Bax- ter will use starters on special teams. The idea of a starter, though, is something he doesn't think much about. "We just care about playing football and giving players a set of skills to be success- ful for the job description," he said. "There are so many starters out there — can you even tell me what a starter is? Is he the guy that plays the first play? I can give you plenty of evidence of a wide receiver or running back who started every game, but played less downs than others. "I can't tell you how it will unfold, but everybody has talked about how we're going to be good on defense, but need to be better in the kicking game and better on offense. If the strength on the team is defense, to me — because it's a team game — we've got to do something to help our defense, which means when we cover a kickoff and punt, we'd better have the best players available. We looked at film from last year, and let's just say that as far as punting went, there was nothing that would match our expectations for how we need to win." The offense has to do its part to protect the ball, he added, for special teams to be as effective as possible. "Part of our formula is to win with field position and great defense, so to me, the kicker and the punter do have some im- portant jobs," he said. "But the No. 1 thing when you interview coaches, they all say you've got to eliminate turnovers. That's pretty much the game. What can you do in the game without the ball? Just play defense. "If you preach ball security, which we're going to do, then you'd better put time and money into the kicking game. If you hold on to the ball, you're guaran- teed to kick every series. You're going to punt to help your defense out, kick a field goal or an extra point. If you're turning the ball over left and right, don't really worry about the kicking game because you're not going to score and you're not going to play very good defense because you're going to be in sudden change all the time." JOHN BAXTER SHOULD GIVE SPECIAL TEAMS A BOOST Baxter became respected nationwide for his ability to coach special teams thanks to his stints at Fresno State (1997-2009) and USC (2010-13). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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