Michigan Wolverines: Kenny Allen

We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. The series wraps up with the specialists.

Illinois:The Illini might not be exceptional in the kicking game, but they're in better shape than they were when coach Tim Beckman arrived. Punter Justin DuVernois returns after a solid junior season, while Taylor Zalewski looks for a bit more consistency in his second full season as the placekicker. Zalewski made 12 of 17 field-goal attempts last fall. The return game is the real plus, as V'Angelo Bentley provides a major threat, especially on punt returns.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana brings back a dynamic returner in Shane Wynn, who averaged 14 yards on punt run-backs despite limited work. Punter Erich Toth also is back for his third season as the starter. Toth placed 18 of 52 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. IU suffers a big loss at kicker as Mitch Ewald, the team's career field goals and field-goal percentage leader, departs. Aaron Del Grosso and Griffin Oakes will compete at kicker, and Jake Shake (shake and bake!) could enter the mix this summer.

Iowa: Here's another Big Ten team that looks very strong on returns, as Iowa boasts the Big Ten's most dynamic tandem in Kevonte Martin-Manley (punts) and Jordan Cotton (kickoffs). Martin-Manley had two punt-return touchdowns in 2013. Punter Connor Kornbrath ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in average, but placed 27 of 65 attempts inside the opponent's 20. Iowa loses kicker Mike Meyer, a four-year starter. Junior Marshall Koehn seems likely to step up, but could be pushed by incoming freshman Mick Ellis and others.

Maryland: Notice a theme so far? Most Big Ten teams are strong in the return game, and Maryland is no exception. If Stefon Diggs returns at full strength from his leg injury, he'll be a dangerous man with punts and kickoffs in his hands. Will Likely performed extremely well in Diggs' spot, averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns. Maryland brings back an excellent kicker in Brad Craddock (21-for-25 on field goals last year), and punter Nathan Renfro enters his third season as the starter.

Michigan: Matt Wile has done a bit of everything for Michigan, but could settle into the starting placekicker role this fall. Wile handled kicking duties late last season and also served as Michigan's punter after Will Hagerup was suspended for the season. Hagerup, the Big Ten's punter of the year in 2012, will reclaim the role if he can avoid off-field problems that have surfaced throughout his career. Wile then could focus on kicking, as Kenny Allen is the only other option there. Michigan is still waiting for big things from kick returner Dennis Norfleet and must find someone to handle punts. Top recruit Jabrill Peppers could help.

Michigan State: Special teams once again should be a strength for MSU, which returns All-Big Ten punter Mike Sadler, a Ray Guy award semifinalist who will contend for All-America honors in 2014. Kicker Michael Geiger also is back after connecting on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts as a true freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Andre Sims Jr. both put up good numbers on punt returns. Michigan State had by far the fewest kick returns (18) in the Big Ten last year and will look for a boost from R.J. Shelton and others.

Minnesota: After an above-average year on special teams in 2013, Minnesota again should be good in the third phase. Punter Peter Mortell didn't get as many accolades as Sadler or Purdue's Cody Webster, but he had an excellent sophomore season, averaging 43.3 yards per attempt with 15 of 50 yards or longer. Marcus Jones is a major threat on returns after bringing back both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns last fall. Redshirt freshman kickers Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte will compete as the Gophers lose Chris Hawthorne.

Nebraska: The Huskers are looking for some upgrades on special teams, particularly on punt returns, as Nebraska ranked 123rd in the FBS last fall. Primary returner Jordan Westerkamp is back, but he'll face some competition. Nebraska brings back punter Sam Foltz, who had a solid freshman season, averaging 41.6 yards per boot. Mauro Bondi is set to step in at kicker as Pat Smith departs. If Bondi struggles, incoming freshman Kris Brown could get a look this summer. Kenny Bell, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (26.5 yards per return), is back.

Northwestern: The Wildcats lose a huge piece in Jeff Budzien, named the Big Ten's top kicker in each of his final two seasons. Hunter Niswander can handle both kickoffs and punts but seems likely to slide into Budzien's spot. Northwestern's punting was a mess in 2013, ranking 118th nationally in net average (33.2 ypp). Brandon Williams departs and Chris Gradone or Niswander will take over. The big news is Northwestern brings back Venric Mark , an All-America punt returner in 2012. Primary kick returner Matt Harris is back after a solid freshman season.

Ohio State: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Indeed, the Aussie is back at punter as Cameron Johnston returns after an excellent debut season (I refuse to call a 21-year-old a freshman). Ohio State hopes for similar results from another first-year specialist in kicker Sean Nuernberger, an early enrollee expected to step in for the departing Drew Basil. Sophomore Dontre Wilson will continue to have a big role on returns after handling kickoffs last year. Ohio State must replace Corey Brown on punt returns and could look to redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall or true freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon.

Penn State: The kicking game continues to be an area of concern.Sam Ficken owns the team record for consecutive field goals (15) and started strong last season but ended with just 15 of 23 conversions, including four misses inside 40 yards. Penn State needs a new punter after losing Alex Butterworth, and will turn to Chris Gulla. Jesse Della Valle did a good job on punt returns, but Penn State needs a boost on kickoffs after finishing last in the league (19.1 yards per return). The Lions could stick with Geno Lewis or look for a newcomer such as De'Andre Thompkins to emerge. PSU also must shore up its coverage units.

Purdue: As if the Boilers didn't have enough to address on offense and defense, the kicking game needs attention. Punter Cody Webster finished his spectacular career with All-America honors, and the Boilers finished second nationally in net punting (41.7 yards per punt). Incoming freshman Austin McGehee will take over for Webster. Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows continue to work at kicker, as Griggs made only 50 percent of his attempts (6 of 12) last season. The kick return game is strong with Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, but Purdue must replace punt returner Ricardo Allen. B.J. Knauf could be a good fit there.

Rutgers: The kicking game historically is a strength for Rutgers, which has a knack for blocking kicks and pulling off fakes. Rutgers loses a productive piece in punter Nick Marsh, who also handled kickoffs. The Scarlet Knights will turn to Joseph Roth as their replacement. Kicker Kyle Federico finished the season well, particularly in the Pinstripe Bowl, and returns for his junior season. Rutgers has a major weapon on returns in Janarion Grant, who brought back both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown during his freshman season.

Wisconsin: The kicking game has held back Wisconsin in the past, so it's definitely an area to watch during the offseason. Kicker Jack Russell converted 9 of 13 field-goal attempts after taking over for Kyle French. He'll try to hold off incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone. Andrew Endicott, who handled kickoffs last fall, also returns. Wisconsin is looking for more from punter Drew Meyer, who averaged just 38.6 yards per attempt in 2013. Top returner Kenzel Doe is back and should handle both punts and kickoffs, although Wisconsin could look to others for help, such as newcomers Serge Trezy and Natrell Jamerson.

More position breakdowns
And we now we finish up our position-by-position breakdown with the good, the bad and the future of the special teams.

THE GOOD: Kicker Brendan Gibbons was clutch, for the most part, in 2013, nailing 44 of 44 extra points and hitting on 15 of 20 field goals. His five misses came from at least 30 yards. His most memorable game (in a bad way) was against Penn State when he missed a potential game-winner from 52 yards, had a 40-yarder blocked and then missed a 33-yarder. But his best moment of the season came when he hit the field goal to send the Michigan-Northwestern game into overtime. In other positive special teams news, the Wolverines continued their upward trend in kick returns under coach Brady Hoke. In the 2011 season, the Wolverines averaged 18.4 yards per return. Last season, that number improved to 22 yards per return, and this season, it saw an ever-so-slight increase to 22.1 yards per return. Sixteen percent of the Wolverines kickoff returns went for 30 or more yards, which ranked 45th nationally and third in the Big Ten.

THE BAD: While the statistics have gotten better for kick returns, punt returns are another story. In Hoke’s first season, the Wolverines averaged 9 yards per return. In 2012, that dropped to 8.8 yards per punt return, and this season, it dropped to 6.7 yards per return (89th nationally, 10th in the Big Ten). Only twice in 2013 did Michigan return a punt at least 20 yards (60th nationally, tied for sixth in the Big Ten). And when it came to punting, it was even worse. Matt Wile, who punted 61 times, averaged 40.6 yards per punt, which ranked 105th in the nation. Wile punted inside the opponents 10-yard line six times this season, which was only good enough for 59th nationally. By comparison, Michigan State’s Mike Sadler led the nation with 23 punts inside the 10-yard line, while second place wasn’t even close (Auburn’s Steven Clark with 15).

Punt and kickoff coverages weren't great, either. On average, opponents lined up at their own 31-yard line after punt returns (106th nationally, 10th in the Big Ten), and 57 percent of the time opponents returned punts at least 5 yards (91st nationally, ninth in the Big Ten). On kickoffs, opponents' average starting point was at their own 28 (93rd nationally, ninth in the Big Ten), and 21 percent of the time opponents returned kickoffs at least 30 yards (102nd nationally, 11th in the Big Ten). By comparison, Wisconsin led the Big Ten by allowing opponents to return kickoffs at least 30 yards on just three percent of kickoffs.

THE FUTURE: Wile should take over as the fulltime kicker and will continue punting duties most likely, though Michigan hopes to see vast improvements in that area. Down the road, this job will likely go to Kenny Allen, who will be the holder next season. Meanwhile, Dennis Norfleet will continue on returns and long snapper Scott Sypniewski will step in for three-year starter Jareth Glanda.

Previous posts:
Quarterback
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line
Mike/Will linebackers
Sam linebackers
Defensive backs

Most indispensable: No. 5 Gibbons 

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
9:00
AM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players but rather the players who'd be the hardest for Michigan to replace if it lost them.

Kicker Brendan Gibbons went from struggling kicker to success story to thinking about brunettes all in his first few years at Michigan. He’s back for his redshirt senior year and has the spot on lockdown barring any kind of crazy happenings.

WolverineNation Mailbag 

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
10:00
AM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- We’re almost at the two-month warning before football season starts, so clearly now is the time to discuss the 2014 season. And basketball. And basketball recruiting.

These topics are covered in this week’s Mailbag, filled with your questions. Have questions for us? Send them to @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com for next week’s mailbag.

On to this week’s conversation.

robbyt003 from The Den asks: What do you think our special teams will look like in 2014? Hagerup at punter, Wile at kicker? Do you think Hagerup will be able to stay out of trouble and even see the field again?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Depth chart analysis: Special teams 

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
6:45
AM ET
Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

Over the past few seasons, it appears as if Michigan has spent more scholarships and time focused on its special teams -- and with good reason. Since Zoltan Mesko left the Wolverines after the 2009 season, there have been lingering questions about all of Michigan’s specialists.

And even when Mesko was in Ann Arbor, there were concerns, although not about their now-Pro Bowl punter.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Joe BoldenMiller Safrit/ESPN.comEarly enrollee linebacker Joe Bolden could be the starter at the Mike position in 2014.
It’s always fun to look into the future and guess where players will be after the next few seasons. So Tom and Chantel decided to sit down and do their best to produce the depth chart for the beginning of the 2014 season. They aren’t coaches, nor are they scouts, but this is an educated guess at what could happen over the next few seasons. View the offensive depth chart here.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART:

WDE:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Michigan Pulls Plug On Coke Promotion
ESPN Michigan reporter Dan Murphy breaks down why the school had to pull a promotion giving fans tickets to an upcoming game against Minnesota in exchange for buying a couple bottles of Coca-Cola.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video