When John Baxter was hired at Michigan, he was tasked with his next great undertaking. Which is making the Wolverines special teams, which, once upon a time, was consistently one of the best in the conference.
With a new kicker and punter arriving in the fall. Figuring out the pieces and seeing where everybody fits in his big plan is something that Baxter is looking forward to.
“I’m really looking forward to putting the pieces to a big jigsaw puzzle together,” Baxter said. “Figuring out the dynamics of this team and teaching them our ways of doing things. We’ve practiced in the spring, which was great, and we taught them technique and fundamentals but now we’re gameplanning. Now we have to find a line in all of the sides of the Rubik’s Cube.
“We have to find the right combinations.”
Combinations are key. With freshman kicker Andrew David and graduate transfer punter Blake O’Neill arriving, they look to make the position battles more interesting during fall camp. Baxter’s philosophy is simple, competition will show who the true starters are and everybody has equal footing to get a chance to make the team.
“We have a new kicker and punter here in the fall which will now make the competition competitive,” Baxter said. “Because we had guys that were here in the spring and now we have true competition. True competition, no one is in the lead in snapping, punting or kicking. It’s all a blank slate. Everybody has to have an equal chance to make this team.
“No one has established themselves as a starter.”
Another struggle Baxter, and the entire Michigan coaching staff as a whole, has had to deal with is NCAA regulations on coaching during the offseason. It’s nothing Baxter can avoid, but how much time he’s spent with his team puts things into perspective regarding where they’re at in terms of roster evaluation.
“I’ve been at Michigan, along with our staff, for seven months, going into our eighth month,” Baxter said. “So we’ve had about 240 days. Out of 240 days, I’ve had 15 with these players. In the sake of transparency, there’s only so much that you can say because for four months we finished spring football in like, what, April ninth? Something like that. May ninth, June ninth, July ninth, we’re going on 120 days where we haven’t worked with them, haven’t watched them, haven’t anything. We’re not allowed to. There are a lot of unknowns still.”
What the coaching staff plans to bring to the table will be something unlike any of these players have experienced before in their lives. Fall camp will demanding, not just from the head coach, but every position coach as well.
Baxter will now be in the process of figuring out depth for his team. And, at the same time, the players will have to figure how to play the coach’s way and to appreciate them.
The new Michigan way.
“They have to learn to play our way, the Michigan way, whatever it is now,” Baxter said. “They have to learn to value and appreciate us as coaches, we have to learn to value and appreciate them. You have to learn to value each other’s skillsets because the art to this deal is every kid brings something to the table.
“They bring some skillset, we always tell them ‘you bring it and we’ll find a place to use.’ It is a process where you get to know your team and you get to know what guys do well. You build depth because there’s no guarantee that Player X will be there every day.”