Position grades: Kickers, punters star for special teams, but coverage units lag
Note: This is the eighth in an eight-part series grading Michigan's position groups. Previously: Quarterbacks (B). Tailbacks (D). Receivers (B+). Offensive line (D). Linebackers (A-). Defensive line (B). Secondary (A-).
ANN ARBOR -- Michigan's Brendan Gibbons missed four of his five field-goal tries as a freshman.
He has missed just six of his 57 tries since.
Gibbons continued his consistent work as Michigan's placekicker in 2012, the star of an improved special teams unit. But there were breakdowns as well.
The grades are mixed:
Starters: PK Brendan Gibbons, K Matt Wile, P Will Hagerup, KR Dennis Norfleet, PR Jeremy Gallon
The good: Gibbons nailed 16-of-18 field-goal attempts, and finished the season with 13 consecutive conversions -- one off the school record. That stretch included highlights such as a game-winning 38-yarder against Michigan State, a career-long 52-yarder against Nebraska and a 26-yarder to force overtime against Northwestern. He made all three of his attempts against MSU in a 12-10 win. He has made his past 97 extra-point attempts, including all 45 in 2012.
Hagerup led the country in punting for much of the season before finishing 11th with an average of 45.0 yards per attempt. That led the Big Ten, and he was named the league's punter of the year. He blasted 13 attempts of at least 50 yards, after combining for 12 in his first two seasons.
Norfleet, a true freshman, sparked the struggling kick-return unit by averaging 23.6 yards per return, second in the Big Ten. His long was only 38 yards, but flashed the speed to break one.
Wile was solid on kickoffs, and terrific when called upon in the punt game. He attempted nine pooch-punts in the regular season, and pinned seven of them inside the 20-yard line. Then after Hagerup was suspended, Wile averaged 48.0 yards on three attempts in the Outback Bowl. He also made two-of-three field-goal attempts, the makes coming from 48 and 52 yards.
The bad: Michigan's kickoff coverage finished last in the Big Ten, netting just 37.3 yards per attempt. It was sloppy throughout the season, and narrowly averted disaster against Northwestern, when the Wildcats had a touchdown called back due to penalty.
The punt coverage team yielded a 63-yard touchdown to South Carolina's Ace Sanders, in a game that was decided by five points. For the season, Michigan net just 35.9 yards per attempt and allowed 4.5 yards per punt return, second worst in the league.
Gallon was subpar on punt return. He began the season by fair-catching nearly every ball that came his way, even when there was space to run, and cost Michigan field position by allowing a few balls to land instead of catching them. He averaged 5.5 yards per return for the season, well off his 2011 pace (10.1 yards).
Hagerup was suspended for the Outback Bowl due to a violation of team rules. He now has been suspended three times in his three-year career, costing him six games, and his status for next season is unknown. He has an NFL leg, but decision making is a major concern.
The overview: The kickers and punters each were terrific, as Michigan finished second in the Big Ten in field-goal kicking (85.7 percent) and punting (42.6 yards per attempt). Norfleet was second in the league in kick returns as a freshman, and his future is promising. But Hagerup's off-the-field hiccups are a growing concern -- he might miss time next year -- and the coverage teams need serious work.
The grade: Difficult to hand out a single grade for such varying performances, but the bottom line is this: Michigan won games with its special teams (Michigan State, Northwestern), but also perhaps lost one because of them (South Carolina). The units are filled with standout specialists like Gibbons and Hagerup and WIle, but coverage needs to be overhauled. B+
-- Download the Michigan football on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Download the Michigan basketball on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Follow Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner on Twitter
-- Like MLive's Michigan Wolverines Facebook page