Kicking butt

In 1988, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr took a trip to New York and came home with some ideas to improve the Wolverines' special teams. Since then, Michigan has had a knack for blocking kicks.

When Alain Kashama blocked a field goal attempt just before halftime to preserve Michigan's 15-point lead over Illinois, it was another example of the commitment the Wolverines have made under coach Lloyd Carr to special teams.

Kashama is a 6-foot-5, 259-pound junior defensive end from Montreal. At the snap of the ball, he explodes off the line and uses his height and his long reach on special teams to make big plays. He was pressed into extended duty in Michigan's 45-28 victory over Illinois because of an injury to Shonte Orr.

Both bring speed and basketball-like jumping ability to the playing field.

"There are faster guys out on the field," Carr said of Michigan's knack for blocking so many kicks. "It was about 1988 when I went out to the New York Giants and met Bill Belichek, who was the defensive coordinator at the time. We took a couple ideas from him.

"We had Tripp Welborne and Vada Murray at the time, and they helped us to win the Big Ten title that year because they were able to block five kicks. We have had great success in recent years. Shonte Orr has been a tremendous force in there with his quickness. Now, we have a couple of guys who can jump.

"They are tremendous plays in the game because they can really change the momentum. I think the fact that more kicks are being blocked is that many more teams are focusing and practicing it more."

Carr joked about Michigan's "playmaker" placekicker, Philip Brabbs, perhaps to bring levity to Brabbs' situation. Never has a kicker been so crucified despite making field goals to win games over Washington and Utah.

Brabbs, a walkon from Midland, Mich., picked up an Illini fumble on a kickoff and made like a running back until he tucked the ball under his arm as he neared the goal line, instead of extending flat-out in an effort to reach the pylon. Redshirt freshman defensive end Pierre Woods knocked the ball out on the play.

"We did not run the ball much when Jeff Del Verne was here," quipped Carr. "Sorry, Jeff. Philip (Brabbs) is a good athlete. He sure made a heads up play when Pierre Woods caused that fumble on their kickoff return. He's done a good job kicking the ball off."

The Woods forced fumble was one of 16 turnovers the Wolverines have created in five games.

"It's an outstanding pace," Carr said. "We you consider the competition we've faced, you realize that turnovers aren't easy to come by. Everyone understands you have a hard time winning games when you lose the turnover battle.

"Everybody is trying to protect the football. Everyone is teaching the same things: Secure the ball. Make good decisions. Don't throw the ball behind the receiver. Don't throw the ball too high in the flats. Don't underthrow the deep passes.

"Those are fundamentals that guys learn when they pick up the ball. We have some quickness. Marlin Jackson has a knack for being around the ball. One of those balls he intercepted (against Illinois) was deflected at the line of scrimmage. When you do that and there are a lot of people around and you're in zone coverage, you have a chance to make a big play."

Carr continues to look for more big plays from the Wolverines' running game. He threw his big fullback, 289-pound redshirt freshman Sean Sanderson, at the Illini on several occasions and was encouraged with Sanderson's performance. He is playing with a cast on his hand.

"There are some players with his injury that would take themselves out," Carr said. "But Sean seems to be a guy who can deal with that. The doctors have the final say, but he is obviously a guy who loves to play the game. He has wonderful potential. It says something about a guy when he plays with discomfort. It sends a message to his teammates."

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