Special teams used to be a huge source of pride for University of Michigan Football fans. Michigan had a seemingly endless stream of dangerous punt and kickoff returners dating back to the days of Anthony Carter some 30 years ago. Not only that, they've sent some very good kickers and punters to the NFL over the years.
In short, special teams was rarely something Michigan fans were worried about until recently.
Although it is unclear who is to blame for the virtual demise of Michigan's special teams, most of the ugliness started when Rich Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor in 2008. The new Michigan coach struggled all year to find a punt returner who didn't fumble or make other crucial mistakes deep in their own territory.
Thing is, punt returns continued to be a problem under Rodriguez all three of his years at Michigan.
The kickoff-return game wasn't great in 2008 either, but Darryl Stonum stepped into the role the next year. His 1,001 kickoff-return yards in 2009 set a new school record. He evoked memories of great Michigan kickoff returners like Derrick Alexander, Desmond Howard and Steve Breaston.
Stonum had another good year returning kicks in 2010, sporting a 23.3 average before he was relieved of that role due to an injury he suffered on a return against Wisconsin.
Will he go back to returning kicks in 2011 under new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke? Will Hoke be daring enough to put electric signal-caller Denard Robinson back to return kicks?
If there was a bigger weakness than Michigan's awful 110th-ranked defense in 2010, it was in the kicking game. Michigan kickers had just seven touchbacks (four after September) and went a combined 4/14 on FGA with a long of 37 yards. Seth Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons were both 0/2 on attempts of 40 yards or over.
Will incoming freshman Matt Wile solve the team's kicking woes?
Will Hagerup made sure punting was still the strong suit of the special-teams unit for Michigan in 2010. He averaged 43.6 yards per punt as a freshman, and Wolverines never felt the loss of fan favorite Zoltan Mesko.
Can Hagerup improve on a strong freshman performance?
Special teams will get nothing but better for Michigan moving forward into the 2011 football season—let's take a look and see why.