Michigan Football position preview: special teams

This is part eight of our Michigan football 2014 season preview series. This edition will take an in depth look at the special teams unit, a group that will have to replace many of the starters from 2013. Part seven of our preview series focused on the quarterbacks and part six on the defensive backs.

What we know

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Michigan punter Will Hagerup

After sitting out the 2013 season for disciplinary reasons, Will Hagerup will return as the Wolverines starting punter. Hagerup was the Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2012 as he lead the conference with an average of 45 yards per punt, 13 of which traveled at least 50 yards. Hagerup has pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line a total of 18 times and has a career-long of 72 yards.

Matt Wile will replace Brandon Gibbons as the place kicker in 2014. Wile has served as Michigan’s kickoff specialist for the past three seasons and even served as the team’s primary punter a season ago. Even with just eight career field-goal attempts, Wile says he is comfortable with his abilities in attempts up to 55 yards.

Michigan will replace three-year starter Jareth Glanda with redshirt freshmen Scott Sypniewski as the team’s primary long snapper. Despite his inexperience, Sypniewski will have no problem carrying the duties as he was the nation’s top-incoming freshmen long snapper a year ago.

Dennis Norfleet will be the main guy returning kicks this season, he averaged 23.5 yards on 40 returns in 2013. Justice Hayes looks like he will join Norfleet in kick returns, but expect receivers Freddy Canteen and Jehu Chesson to be included in the mix. Punt returns will be handled by both Norfleet and freshmen Jabrill Peppers.

Area of concern

Michigan football

Michigan kicker Matt Wile

The main area of concern for Michigan is the lack of experience at place kicker. Wile appears to be comfortable with taking on the full-time duties but the fact of the matter is that he has only experienced the pressure of kicking a field goal on Saturdays just eight times in his career. Field goals could be the difference in a handful of games this season, pressure kicks could make or break Michigan’s season.

Potential breakout player

True freshmen Jabrill Peppers is my potential breakout player on special teams. Peppers will be brought into the defensive scheme gradually, but it’s only a matter of time before he fully takes over punt return duties. The blue-chip recruit has top-notch speed and exceptional play-making abilities that lead him to the endzone. I fully expect him to creep into the mix on the kick-return team as well.

Peppers was explosive and instinctive on return drills during the Wolverines recent open-practice, it’s just a matter of time before he dominates the return game for Michigan.

Projected starters

K: Matt Wile (Sr, 6-2, 219)

P: Will Hagerup (RS Sr, 6-4, 225)

KR: Dennis Norfleet (Jr, 5-7, 169)

PR: Jabrill Peppers (Fr, 6-1, 202)

Long snapper: Scott Sypniewski (RS Fr, 6-1, 221)

Holder: Anthony Capatina (RS Sr, 5-9, 180)

Incoming freshmen: Freddy Canteen (WR), Drake Harris (WR), Jabrill Peppers (DB)

Final thoughts

With questions surrounding Michigan’s offense and their ability to consistently move the ball, special teams could be the X-factor behind this team’s success. Between exchanging field position and the ability to convert on field-goal attempts, will have a noticeably big impact on the outcome of games in 2014. There are some concerns with the kicking game but Michigan has the talent to win the field-position battle on any given Saturday.

Check out our Michigan Football team page for other position previews and stay tuned for our game-by-game predictions.

You can follow me on Twitter @isports_Jordan