Michigan football coach Brady Hoke likes Jeremy Gallon as a punt returner, Blake Countess as a possible backup
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Michigan football coach Brady Hoke will likely head into the 2012 season with a comfortable first-string punt returner in junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.
But in case of emergency, Hoke's preferred backup return man comes as a bit of a surprise.
Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess.
"Punt-wise, it's Gallon," Hoke said Thursday. "But the next one would be Countess. He's a guy who's very confident in what he does back there.
"I think, also, Countess is a guy (we've looked at) in kick return some."
Gallon was Michigan's undisputed punt returner a year ago, returning 19 kicks for 192 yards, holding an average of 10.1 yards per return and a long of 32 yards.
The sophomore from Owings Mills, Md., was one of the team's most successful rookies last season, starting 11 games at corner and making 44 tackles in the process.
He never returned a kick, but was spotted shagging punts regularly during media-watched practices in 2011.
As for the kick return game, Hoke pointed toward sophomore running back Thomas Rawls and redshirt freshman running back Justice Hayes as two players he would like to see take ownership of the role.
Michigan will have to replace its main kick returner from a year ago in departed senior Martavious Odoms. Senior running back Vincent Smith also has experience returning kicks.
Of all specialty positions, perhaps the most hotly-contested position battle going into the close of spring practice is the punter spot.
Hoke said sophomore Matt Wile and junior Will Hagerup are neck and neck at the moment.
"One day one is consistent, then the next day he's not and the other guy is," Hoke said of Wile and Hagerup. "We're going to do some stuff on Saturday (during the spring game) to really put some heat on them and see how they handle that part of it.
"We've been doing that some, but in the (spring game) environment, we can get a couple more speed guys out there and it'll be interesting to see."
Wile averaged 41.6 yards per punt in 17 tries a year ago, while Hagerup averaged 36 yards per kick in 29 punts.
As far as the placekicking game is concerned, Hoke said the job is currently junior Brendan Gibbons' to lose once again.
Gibbons bounced back from a rough 2010 season by going 13-for-17 in 2011, including the game-winning kick in January's Sugar Bowl victory.