|Matt Wile||Will Hagerup|
|Jeremy Gallon||Drew Dileo||Dennis Norfleet|
Player by player breakdown:
Gibbons had one of the biggest turnarounds on the team last year. After a horrific 2010 campaign where he hit just 1-5 FGs, Gibbons hit 13-17 including the game winner in the Sugar Bowl last season. Gibbons has always had a powerful leg, his issue has been accuracy and consistency. After having his confidence restored the next step for Gibbons is extending his accuracy to FGs beyond 40yds.
A year ago, Wile was thrust into action at Michigan before taking his first class of the fall semester. Wile is the most versatile special teams player that Michigan has had since Hayden Epstein in the early 2000s. An accomplished kicker with a powerful leg, Wile can handle everything from punting to place kicking, to kicking the ball off. Wile is currently in a tight battle with Will Hagerup for the starting punting role after racking up a 41.6yd average a year ago. Brady Hoke has yet to name a starter but he did say that Wile was leading heading into the first scrimmage. Wile will once again handle the kick off duties for Michigan.
What a difference a year makes. Hagerup went from being one the best punters in the Big 10 as a freshman (43.6yd avg) to middle of the pack. After returning from suspension, Hagerup posted a pedestrian 36yd average last season. Hagerup has one of the strongest legs in college football, when he strikes it well, the ball really takes off. The issue for Hagerup has been consistency and striking the ball well on every punt when the lights and pressure is on.
Smith was the 2nd leading kick returner a year ago but only managed 18.4yd per return. While not exceptionally fast, Smith is a naturally talented runner with good vision and cutting ability which is critical when returning kicks. How much time Smith spends returning kicks will be determined by the number of snaps he receives at RB, and whether another player emerges as a serious return threat. Ideally, Michigan would like to keep Smith at RB and not use him in the return game.
A jack of all trades, Gallon saw time returning both kicks and punts last season. Gallon has ideal size, hands, quickness, and vision for returning kicks and punts but he lacks the kind of explosiveness that often produces big returns on a consistent basis. Gallon is a safe bet on kick and punt returns, he won’t turn the ball over but big returns will be few and far between.
Norfleet was recruited with the intention of him turning into a big play threat in the return game. The pint-sized back has unique explosiveness and quickness and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball in high. The major question mark for Norfleet will be how quickly he picks up return schemes and his consistency catching the ball. Even though Norfleet may be the best natural return man on the roster, the coaches won’t send him out until they are confident that he can field the ball consistently. Returning punts is a pressure pack job and there is no way to judge how a player will react fielding punts in a crowd until he is put in that position on game day.