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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Isn't that special?

Not everyone in the Michigan community was excited to see Mike DeBord be named as new Offensive Coordinator recently. Most were hoping for a national search, not another re-tread, though his offenses were pretty prolific during his first stint as the OC. A potential bigger concern is what might happen to the special teams. After what seemed like years of blowing at least one game on a blocked punt or a TD return, last year's special teams were stellar. Only Rivas' individual inconsistency kept it from being among the best in the nation. There were no blocked punts, and the net punting average was the best in years. All this despite using a walk-on National Honor Society student as a punter. He even had to share a number with the stud freshman RB. Also, his kickoffs, and the coverage, were great. Our return game was solid and when Breaston was healthy, outstanding. It often provided the best chance for the team to score in some games.

Mike DeBord was the special teams coach in 2005. By all accounts he did a great job, and the results support that theory. But what's going to happen in 2006 and beyond? According to the Ann Arbor News, there will be no special teams coach and the duties will be split among the entire coaching staff. Will the special teams go back in the crapper, costing us an otherwise winnable game? It happened in Oregon and Iowa in 2003 and Notre Dame in 2004. That's what led to DeBord taking over - along with his failure to win in Mt. Pleasant. So even if the offense improves next year, will our special teams suffer so much as to make that point almost moot?

1 comment:

BaggyPantsDevil said...

Damn, I focus on work for a few days and end up missing out on all sorts of good stuff.

I agree, I've been generally pleased with the special teams play since DeBord took over. They've been dependable and haven't dicked anything up like they did prior to his return to Michigan and that's a good thing. I do think that the efforts of Ross Ryan and Steve Breaston are largely responsible for pushing the special teams performance up into the stellar category, though. When Ryan kicks-off there's a 50-50 chance that it'll be a touchback, which strikes me as pretty damn good. And we're all familiar with what Breaston can do when he's healthy. Both of these athletes give Michigan a significant advantage in the battle for field position which was an immense help last season.

Still, there were some things that bothered me. Steve Breaston seemed to get pasted by opposing team gunners the instant he catches the ball a little too frequently for me. The wave of disappointment I feel at not being able to watch Breaston reel off one of those "how is that even possible?" returns always leads me to ask the following questions: 1) Hey, shouldn't that be a penalty? 2) Why didn't someone get in that guy's way and slow him up a bit? Come on people, Breaston's out there with the build of Michael Jackson for crying out loud. 3) Why don't our gunners do that?

Still, the special teams have been an asset and DeBord deserves some credit for that so I'm not sure why there's so much "OMG DeBord's the Offensicve Coordinator again, we're doomed" talk. Sure, we've seen him before so there's not likely to be any wonderful surprises on offense next year and his years as Michigan's Offensive Coordinator were highlighted by good--if not fantastic--defense, but as far as I can tell, he's a decent coach capable of putting together reliable units. He just isn't Head Coach material.

A decline on special teams play would be trouble for Michigan. The struggling offense relied heavily on getting a short field a little too much last season. Take away Breaston's last return in the Penn State game and there's no last second victory. And, take away the ridiculous yardage Breaston racked up against Texas in the Rose Bowl and Texas wins in a game that's not really all that close. Still, perhaps a more reliable offense would offset any drop off in field position.

I am pleased that there's a new coaching focus on defense now, I just hope it doesn't come at the expense of the special teams. There's been a tendency at Michigan to address one weakness and then create another.