Michigan football's special teams have big shoes to fill; here is who could step up

There has been plenty of focus on how much talent Michigan football returns this season on offense and defense, but not nearly as much talk about the significant losses on special teams and how to replace them. Maybe it’s time to have that conversation. Gone are kicker Jake Moody, who earned his “Money” nickname becoming the program’s all-time scoring leader with 355 points while making 82% of his field-goal attempts and all 158 of his extra-point tries. He was the 2021 winner of the Lou Groza Award recognizing the nation’s top kicker, a finalist last season and the Big Ten’s two-time Kicker of the Year. Brad Robbins was a prolific punter during his Michigan career and finished No. 2 in program history in punting average (42.0), had the second-best single-season average (46.33 in 2021) and was fifth in program history in total punt yards (7,698). Moody was a third-round NFL Draft pick and Robbins was selected in the sixth as Michigan became the second school in the past 40 years to have a kicker and punter picked in the same draft. That’s a lot of firepower lost as the duo set the bar high in the kick game, which is a statement of the obvious to Jay Harbaugh, Michigan’s special-teams coordinator and safeties coach. “I appreciate the reminder,” Harbaugh said with a laugh during a break in a recent camp at Wayne State. “We want it that way. We have a lot of good players and we’ve given them ample and meaningful practice time to play at a high level, so we embrace the high bar, we embrace the expectations and want to try to exceed them.” That easier said than done, and Harbaugh admits he has lost sleep as the staff prepares for the upcoming season. “Yeah, I’ve lost some, that’s for sure,” Harbaugh said. “We probably won’t be able to replace them in the literal sense of the word. Those two guys have probably spoiled Michigan faithful a little bit with their production, the consistency of it and how level-headed they are and how good they’ve been in big games. “That being said, we have talent, and we have new talent that’s come in, transfers. We’re just looking for guys that can give us winning performance. Not looking to compare them to Moody and Robbins, which is the easy, obvious thing to do. It’s not fair to them. We know if Tommy Doman and a couple of the transfers, the freshmen, if they get as good as they can be and perform the way they’re capable of, I think we can surprise some people.” Doman is a redshirt sophomore out of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s who could handle every phase of Michigan’s kick game, but that is a full plate Harbaugh would like shared. It’s possible his tasks will be narrowed to kickoffs and punting. “Michigan’s in great hands. He’s a great specialist,” Moody said of Doman earlier this year. “He can do all three, which is pretty rare at the college level now, and he can do all three at a high level. Having that as a weapon is pretty special.” The Wolverines added Louisville transfer kicker James Turner from Saline in the offseason, and he appears to be Moody’s heir apparent. Last season, Turner tied Louisville’s single-season field goal record with 20 made and hit 47-of-59 during his career there. Hudson Hollenbeck also transferred to Michigan after one season in which he did not see game action at Mississippi State. Adam Samaha, a freshman from Ann Arbor Huron High, also will be in the mix. “I’m not gonna say it’s gonna be what those guys did, but I think we could surprise some people and play at a high level,” Harbaugh said, referring to Moody and Robbins. “Frankly, there’s no other option, We have to be able to do it just because of the goals we have as a team. We can’t be a weak link. I think the guys are excited and motivated.” Long snappers are not often discussed, but when starter William Wagner was lost because of a torn knee ligament suffered in the Iowa game last fall, Harbaugh had to adjust, and Greg Tarr took over the job. Wagner is back from the injury and expected to be the starter this fall. “I think we’ve seen from Tarr that we know we can win with him and we can play at a high level with him in there,” Harbaugh said. “Now we know we have two starting snappers, whereas before, we knew we only had one. To me, it’s a really good thing. A healthy Wags would be really hard to beat out, but the good thing is, Tarr has a fantastic attitude, and he prepares really well. He’s the kind of guy that wants to be on the best team possible and wants to help in any way he can. He’s really come a long way and a fantastic part of this team.” He has several players in mind, and the field was not narrowed after spring practice. Harbaugh mentioned receivers Tyler Morris, Eamonn Davis and Jake Thaw as candidates. Also returning from injury is Caden Kolesar, often referred to as the special-teams captain and a steadying force in kick coverage. Harbaugh also must figure out how to replace eturner/receiver A.J. Henning, who transferred to Northwestern last month. Last season, Henning returned 28 punts for 201 yards with one touchdown and 11 kickoffs for 241 yards. “Thaw is a guy not many people know about, but he’s good, he works really hard, detailed, really hard to tackle,” he said. Harbaugh is also looking at some of the running backs, including standout Donovan Edwards, Tavierre Dunlap, freshmen Cole Cabana and Ben Hall, and converted linebacker Kalel Mullings, who has moved into the backfield. “He’s a guy someone wouldn’t expect,” Harbaugh said of Mullings. “As big as he is (6-2, 232), he can catch the ball really well. A lot of the story this year will be taking guys who have potential, guys who have that ability and see who can really produce and do it consistently for us. “What we lack in experience we more than make up for it in potential, which is exciting. If there was anything that was a positive or exciting about losing some really good players is that we have a really deep team and guys who are willing and want to make an impact on special teams, so we’re excited to see who’s gonna step up.”

Latest Player Notes

How Wisconsin athletes are benefiting from a unique NIL deal with Madison's Exact Sciences

Feb 17, 2024MJ Hammill entered what can be a scary time of an athlete’s life in mid-December.She went into the volleyball ...

Mike Griffith: Texas is Georgia's primary focus this offseason

February 16, 2024The Georgia Bulldogs face three SEC contenders on the road next season in Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. According ...

Navigating a season that could see Texas play Georgia more than once

February 17, 2024The Texas Longhorns and Georgia Bulldogs will play in Austin on Oct. 19. It may not be the only time they ...

After some key departures from the team, Dykes got busy in the portal this offseason.

5:11 PM on Feb 16, 2024Biggest unanswered question: Who will emerge as the clear WR1?Before last season, Williams was the ...

How Louisville football coach Jeff Brohm balances transfer portal, high school recruiting

Louisville Courier JournalCollege football used to buzz on the first Wednesday in February, but Louisville football's office ...

Bob Asmussen | Illinois defense counting on linebackers to plug the gaps

College Football Reporter/ColumnistCHAMPAIGN — A new linebacker coach is in place at Illinois, and Archie McDaniel said he ...

Where Alabama’s quarterback group stands before spring practice

Alabama football’s offense is going to look different this season. Kalen DeBoer has replaced the retired Nick Saban as head ...

Why did AJ McCarron return to the St. Louis Battlehawks?

When AJ McCarron joined the resurrected XFL last year, the former Alabama All-American hadn’t played since suffering a knee ...

Colorado football self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations from Deion Sanders’ first year with Buffs

1/26/2024The Colorado football program has self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations since the hiring of head coach Deion Sanders ...

What Steve Young said about today’s NFL quarterbacks

By Jackson Payne Steve Young may have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling just ...
See More Player Notes