"What improves field position? Special teams."

"You WILL see a much better product this year special-teams-wise."

Read on for more -- you'll be duly impressed at the importance of this unit this year.">
"What improves field position? Special teams."

"You WILL see a much better product this year special-teams-wise."

Read on for more -- you'll be duly impressed at the importance of this unit this year.">

Ouimet: U-M's Special Teams

Former U-M staffer Mark Ouimet on the '04 Special Teams:<br><br> "This season for Michigan, with a young quarterback, it will be all about field position. You never want a young quarterback to get backed up in inside the 20 yard line. "<br><br> "What improves field position? Special teams."<br><br> "You WILL see a much better product this year special-teams-wise."<br><br> Read on for more -- you'll be duly impressed at the importance of this unit this year.

Ouimet: "Michigan's special teams last year let them down at a couple crucial times, in the Oregon and Iowa games -- their two losses. They gave up some big plays, and they got some of their punts blocked. This year, Mike Debord (new Special Teams Coordinator, who was also a long-time U-M Assistant Coach before being the CMU Head Coach the past four years) will bring back a mentality of hard work and discipline to special teams. He will once again stress the importance of these units to the special teams guys, and restore pride to them.

"And consequently, Debord will have the special teams units focused and prepared, just like Bobby Morrison did while I was there (1997-2001). So you WILL see a much better product this year special-teams-wise. And that's timely. Because this season for Michigan, with a young quarterback, it will be all about field position.

"You never want a young quarterback to get backed up in inside the 20 yard line. You can't expect a young quarterback to take the team 80 yards down the field. So the strength of the team this year has to be -- and should be -- defense and special teams. It is up to the defense, and, especially, special teams, to create good field position for the offense -- and to create bad field position for the opponent.

"And as I say, the strength of the 2004 Wolverines is defense and special teams.

"The main jobs of special team this year are actually two: to create field position and also to score (and prevent the scoring of) points.

"First field position. Think about it -- what improves field position? Special teams. Both kick and punt returns and kick/punt coverage are about establishing field position for your own offense and preventing it for the other team. When you put it that way, the importance of the kickoff and punting units takes on real stature, doesn't it.

"The job of Michigan's kickoff and punt returners, and the kickoff and punt return units? Hopefully to score some touchdowns of course! But mainly to establish field position right off the bat. You want your kickoff returner to get at least to the 30 yard line, and you want your punt returner to get up to midfield or close to it.

"The job of Adam Finley, Michigan's punter? And the punt-coverage units? To get Michigan out of poor field position, and/or to put the opponent into bad field position.

"The kickoff coverage units? Their job is to keep the other team from getting to the 25 yard line.

"The job of Garrett Rivas, the field goal kicker, and the field goal/extra point unit, is obvious -- to put points on the board.

"And there is one more job -- the punt return unit and the field goal/extra point blocking units are also trying to block place-kicks -- to prevent points from being scored by the other team.

"When you lay it all out that way -- that's a heck of a lot of absolutely crucial jobs for the Special Teams Units. And it's actually several units, not just one.

"Now let's run through the specialists.

"We could talk about Steve Breaston first, because he's the big weapon of the unit -- but I'm going to start with Adam Finley.

"Adam Finley, the punter. I'll say he and the punting unit have the most important special teams job this year - to get the team out of poor field position when the offense gets stopped deep in their own territory -- say, inside the 30.

"Finley has contributed a ton already during his career, he's gotten better as years progressed. And being a punt specialist now, will help take pressure off him and making his punting even better. What Finley needs is a good year in hang time, so the 'gunners' can get down there and nail the punt returner. People don't realize this, but hang time is more important than punt yardage.

"Of course, Finley will also practice field goals, in case Garrett Rivas gets hurt.

Garrett Rivas is gaining experience -- he got good experience year. He'll show everyone a stronger leg and better accuracy this year. It will help that he won't be punting at all this year.

"Both Finley and Rivas will be able to focus on their speciality this year. Last year, they had to focus on too many things ... it was a situation of guys having to try to do too much.

"Rivas should not even have to kick off. Troy Nienburg will probably kick off again, although that job still has competition right now. They could use Finley and Rivas there if they want to. But my guess is it'll be Nienburg.

"That brings us to Steve Breaston -- the return specialist. The biggest question with special teams is Breaston. How healthy is he? Will we see him on the field in the first game? Probably. The question is where and when will they use him, and how much. As far as special teams ... I think Michigan puts him back at punt returner first. Behind Breaston at punt returner -- Markus Curry. Braylon Edwards can do the job too, but I think they'd use Curry behind Breaston.

"I'm guessing they will give someone else the job of kickoff returner against Miami. Kickoff returns is a high-collision situation, moreso than punt returns usually, and they may keep Breaston off of kickoffs, at least against Miami. So there is opportunity for several guys as kickoff returner. I'd say, in order, the most likely to be back there (besides Breaston when he can) are: Tim Bracken, Carl Tabb, Markus Curry, Marlin Jackson. Bracken should be on the first unit regardless. He's useful not just for returning but for blocking. He's a little bigger than the other guys, and he has practiced blocking for several years now. Also, if they decide not to redshirt them Mike Hart or Doug Dutch could get in the mix there.

"We'll probably see some other freshmen on the special teams units as well -- Tim Jamison, or Chris Graham perhaps.

"But, the #1 question -- without question -- is Steve Breaston. How healthy is he and will they play him full time on special teams. Because it is Breaston that is the threat to score a touchdown every time he lines up back there. There is no one else like Breaston on the team. It is not easy to catch a kick or punt and run with it, but he is something special at it, like no one else actually ... not on Michigan or anywhere else in the Big Ten (by the way, Jim Leonard of Wisconsin is a great punt returner -- too bad Michigan doesn't play Wisconsin, it is the Wolverines and Badgers who have the best overall talent in the league).

"One more thing -- we will see more emphasis on blocking kicks once again this year. There will be more of an attacking style again, like Bobby Morrison did. Bobby was aggressive and Debord will be aggressive.

"Overall, Special Teams will be much improved. More organized. More a unit that plays together instead of as individuals. On special teams it'll be back to the way it was in the recent past -- and if Breaston is healthy, probably even better."

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