February 18, 2013

Borton's Blog: Early opportunities

One of the best ways to get freshmen used to playing on the big stage involves special teams. Michigan featured a host of freshmen on those units last year, and that will likely happen again.

Dan Ferrigno coordinates Michigan's special teams, and he's ready to give all of the newest Wolverines - with the exception of the offensive linemen - a shot on the special crews.

"I see some body types that I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do on all of our special teams," Ferrigno said. "They'll have that opportunity. We'll start with the guys that are here this spring. We'll throw them in the mix, and when we start in the fall, we'll throw those other kids in the drills."

That means 6-6, 235-pound tight end Jake Butt, 6-6, 249-pound defensive end Taco Charlton, 5-10, 180-pound defensive back Ross Douglas and 6-2, 195-pound defensive back Dymonte Thomas all get the first cracks at those squads among their classmates. Michigan wasn't hesitant to toss freshmen into the defensive and offensive lineups even last year, and certainly won't be shy about trying them on special teams.

"If you look at last year, Jarrod Wilson, Royce Jenkins-Stone and James Ross played a ton of special teams," Ferrigno said. "Those were guys we evaluated and said, we've got to get these kids on the field.

"The young receivers -[Amara] Darboh played a bunch, Jehu Chesson should be a real good one, and all three of the new receivers are bigger kids that can run, and that we can put on special teams. I am looking forward to working with those guys and hopefully making our teams better."

Ferrigno smiled when asked about potential punt returners in the bunch. For such a high-profile job, it's not the most coveted, he acknowledged.

It seems many would like the ball in a slightly less vulnerable position upon reception.

"It's kind of funny," Ferrigno said. "First you go, 'Okay, how many kickoff returners do we have in here?' Half the room - the skill guys - they raise their hands. You have them keep their hands up, and you go 'How many punt returners?'

"They all sit on their hands. Maybe two of them put their hands up. We'll find some kickoff returners. Punt returners … there are any of them that want to do it. We've got [Jeremy] Gallon, and [Dennis] Norfleet loves to do it. We'll keep working with those guys.

"Anybody that wants to try, we have a 15-minute specialist period before practice every day. When those kids get here, we'll start working them right away. Coach Heck [Jeff Hecklinski] and Coach [Fred] Jackson are the ones that coach those guys, so they'll tell me, this guy can do it and this guy can't."

The who-can, who-can't process is already creeping closer, with spring football only a month away. It won't be in full gear for the freshman class as a whole until August, but player-led summer practices will give many beyond the early-entry foursome a chance to show some skill and get a jump on the learning process.

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