With a dual role on the Michigan coaching staff, Jay Harbaugh has worked diligently to prep the Wolverines special teams players in lieu of the 2020 season.
From a return standpoint, Giles Jackson handled the vast majority of kickoff returns last season with 24 returns and a team-high 25.9 yards per return. Jackson’s brightest moment came against Maryland when the speedy athlete returned the opening kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown in the road contest. Jackson currently headlines a group of speedy Michigan kickoff returners.
“It’s a really strong group,” Harbaugh said. “I would say overall it might be the best that we’ve had just in terms of depth… For kickoff returns, we love Giles back there, everybody does. He’s crazy fast, super talented and he even left some yards out there last year that I think this year he’s going to be able to take advantage of. Just continuing to improve with the way he understands our system, seeing the blocking scheme develop, so expecting a great year from him.”
After Jackson, Harbaugh listed Ronnie Bell, Mike Sainristil, Andre Seldon, Blake Corum, Michael Barrett, Daxton Hill and Chris Evans as players that have demonstrated an ability to give Michigan quality field position on kickoff returns.
“We feel great about the quality of guys back there, which is really necessary because as soon as a returner becomes a big play threat, that’s when you see that guy doesn’t get the ball so much anymore,” Harbaugh said. “So, it’s important to have somebody else back there that is a legit big play threat.”
In the punt return realm, Michigan will be forced to replace Donovan Peoples-Jones. In 2019, Peoples-Jones returned a team-high 24 punts, and Ronnie Bell was second in that category with a mere eight returns. However, Bell posted a higher return average with 8.4 yards per attempt to Peoples-Jones’ 7.2 average.
“In the punt return scheme, obviously not having Donovan will be a new thing for us, and luckily we were able to get some live reps with Ronnie in the past, Mike Sainristil in the past,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something Giles can do as well, which is exciting. Mike Barrett catches the ball extremely well. Blake Corum as a punt returner. I don’t know if I mentioned Seldon. That’s not even excluding the Roman Wilsons and the A.J. Hennings of the world that are still kind of unsure, but those guys are electric. I’m confident that they will at least be able to compete and push those guys. If they get to a point where they can catch it with confidence at some point in the year those guys can be legit dudes as well.”
While Peoples-Jones essentially had control of Michigan’s punt return job in the past, the Wolverines are fortunate to have a slew of dynamic players that can fill in during his absence. Harbaugh listed the many possible contributors at that spot, and a dangerous return game will only make life easier for Michigan’s offense this season.
Which players would you most like to see back returning kickoffs for Michigan in 2020? What about in the punt return game, who stands out in your eyes? Let us know!