2012 Michigan football preview: Specialists

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It is a competition that won’t garner as much attention as left guard or wide receiver or even who will take the second-most snaps at running back.

But the fall camp competition that could affect the Wolverines the most this season will have everything to do with the legs of two players.

Will Hagerup lost his form and confidence last season, going from one of the more promising punters in the Big Ten into a shroud of inconsistency. It eventually ended with him losing his job to then-freshman Matt Wile, who was still figuring out how to punt after not doing it through most of high school.

Now, both are back, and with only spot, it’ll be one of the tighter battles over the next month.

“There will be competition,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “It’ll be fun to see what I see.”

What Hoke, his staff and those inside the Michigan program will see is something few others will be able to until Sept. 1 against Alabama. Last season, Michigan spent a lot of time trying to fix what ailed Hagerup, a diagnosis of wanting to perform so well and hit the ball so far that it messed everything else up.

“Sometimes he wants to hit the ball too hard instead of letting the normal leg motion [work],” Hoke said.

It caused shanks, mishits and even once completely missing the snap. It also allowed Wile, who punted for the first four games of the season when Hagerup was suspended, to step in and reclaim the job by the end of the season.

Wile averaged 41.6 yards a punt last season, Hagerup 36.0 yards.

Punting isn’t the only special-teams competition open, either. With the graduation of Martavious Odoms and the addition of freshman Dennis Norfleet, both the kick and punt return jobs could be up for grabs.

Jeremy Gallon, the Wolverines’ primary punt returner last season, will likely be a starting wide receiver so he could see his time on special teams slashed. Also, he wasn’t particularly effective, averaging only 10.1 yards a return.

Senior Vincent Smith, the third-down back, could be in line for kick and punt returns, as he and Gallon are the only two players on the roster with real return experience.

This is where Norfleet comes in. A literal last-minute addition -- he committed the night before signing day -- he was praised then as someone who could come in and have an immediate impact as a returner.

Either way, that competition is wide open.

The only spot that appears to be set is kicker, where Brendan Gibbons returns with continued confidence after a good redshirt sophomore season that culminated with the game-winning kick in the Sugar Bowl.

He’ll have another big game to kick in almost immediately when Michigan faces Alabama in another NFL stadium on Sept. 1.