Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michigan Preview 2008: Part 8-Special Teams

Rich Rodriguez, in a press conference two weeks ago after what seemed like it must have been a rough practice for the offense said, “Our special teams has to be great, I mean, making plays and everything, if we want any shot at winning any sort of championship.” Obviously he was a little distraught after a rough offensive performance, but it might be true. With the terribly thin and inexperienced offensive line, same with the quarterback spot, Michigan will need to find other ways to score. That’s why special teams will be emphasized. The offense might not be finding the endzone too much so Michigan has to be able to kick and make field goals whenever in field goal territory and you can be sure that Zoltan Mesko will be active this year punting with that spread punt formation. Yeah that terrible rugby punt thing that Carr tried out for a year and failed miserably with. Maybe Michigan will try to actually block punts and kicks this year too, an idea completely foreign to the Carr regime. And maybe, we can get something out of the return game for the first time without Steve Breaston. Some questions will be answered Saturday, but Rodriguez has made it clear that special teams has to be HUGE if Michigan is to have success.


Michigan should be fine here or great here with Zoltan. The only scary thing is that Rodriguez likes the spread out formation for punts. Rodriguez has had success with it, but the only time Michigan has used it worked out terribly as many Michigan fans remember and still have nightmares about. I’m guessing it will be fine and Zoltan will do better than his underachieving performance last year. He will be used often as this offense will probably stall quite a bit.


K.C. Lopata is a 5th year senior and the job is still his. And people should remember he was actually pretty good going 11-12 on field goals. He has reportedly hit some 50 yarders in practice this Fall and should be a little better than last year. He better be, because any time Michigan’s offense is fortunate enough to get to field goal range, he’s going to have to hit it. Points will probably come at a premium for this team, especially early, they have to capitalize every time they have a chance. And kickers usually don’t get hurt, but let’s hope no freak injury happens to Lopata. Because behind is GASP Jason “Gingy” Gingell. I hope he doesn’t have to kick anything this year.

Punt Returners:

1. #6 Donovan Warren
Right now Warren is listed as the guy for punt returns, but Rodriguez said it is still up for grabs between him and Martavious Odoms. I get excited to see Warren returning punts because I am a dreamer and have been waiting for the next Charles Woodson since he left. It hasn’t panned out and this won’t pan out either because Woodson was one of the most athletically gifted players in college football in the last twenty years. Still, Warren is very quick and could be fun to watch return punts. Again, whoever returns here will need to be electric and getting in the endzone from time to time would be very nice.

2. #9 Martavious Odoms
Odoms, if he stays healthy, looks poised for a Freshman All-American year because, well, he’s going to be playing all the time. The speedster is the only lock to start at receiver, he will return some punts, and is in the mix to return kicks. It’s obvious the coaches love him and his speed, coupled with the fact that he is so small it’ll be like trying to catch a fly for opposing defenses, he could be a great returner and have a freshman year like Breaston’s or better in the return game. I’m really getting tire of talking about this and can’t wait to see him play.

Kick Returners:

Brandon Harrison and Morgan Trent are the guys expected to return kickoffs first. Arguably the two fastest guys on the team and certainly the two fastest veterans on the team, they could be pretty good. The two freshman behind them though, Michael Shaw and Odoms, might end up being better. The coaches love Shaw and his speed. The coaches are looking at a number of guys for these spots and its quite obvious they won’t stop until they find someone explosive who has a chance to break a big return everytime they touch it. Michigan should have great returners this year, if not immediately, as the season goes on and they try everyone out.


Bryan Wright is the kickoff man and while many have given up on him, he has the most powerful leg of the kickers. At the spring game, it was obvious his leg was the most powerful. His accuracy must be bad since the coaches don’t like him as a placekicker, but he should be pretty solid with his kickoffs.

Kick and Punt coverage:

Again, points will come at a premium for this season and because of that, special teams cannot give opposing offenses easy scores on special teams or great field position. Michigan will have to keep each game as low scoring as possible in order to win. Special teams has to make sure it does nothing to make the defense’s job any harder.

There is no way of predicting how special teams will look this season and we will find out soon enough. But they have to be damn good, as Rodriguez said, “in order for this team to win any sort of championship.” The coaches won’t stop shuffling players around in the return game until they find someone who is explosive. If they already had, the returns in the Utah game should be fun to watch, and be a source of points for the Wolverines that no one has really thought of up to this point.

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