Michigan football special teams coordinator John Baxter said Wednesday that he is well into his search for fifth-year senior punter Blake O’Neill’s replacement.
O’Neill, who grew up playing Australian rules football, has been stellar for the Wolverines this season. Through five games, he is averaging 40.7 yards per punt and has stuck 11 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard lines. Naturally, replacing him won’t be easy.
“Punter is the hardest position on your whole football team to find,” Baxter said. “There is no skill set anywhere, in any sport that youth play in this country, that has you drop a rhomboid spheroid flat and try to hit it with your foot.”
Baxter noted that kids in Australia grow up playing catch by punting, rather than throwing, and though he is still scouting punters in the United States, the Australian skill set makes it a fertile ground for recruiting.
“What do you do when the current farm isn’t yielding the crops you need?” Baxter asked. “You expand your farming area.”
Baxter also commented on O’Neill’s athleticism, which helps explain why O’Neill took a chance to run the ball — unsuccessfully — on 4th-and-16 in Michigan’s game against BYU. Baxter said his punter has the freedom to take off on any play.
The running threat adds an additional dimension to the Wolverines’ special-teams game, an aspect of the missed run Baxter seemed pleased about.
“If people know he’s going to run, I think that’s good for us,” Baxter said.
“Because he’s gonna run. He has that option every time.”
OJEMUDIA’S REPLACEMENT: Michigan’s defense took a serious hit when senior linebacker Mario Ojemudia was ruled out for the season after injuring his achilles tendon against Maryland on Saturday.
Ojemudia is second on the team with six tackles for loss, trailing only redshirt junior defensive end Chris Wormley, who has seven.
And while Ojemudia’s talents won’t be easily replaced, there are many candidates to fill his spot at the BUCK position.
“(Senior linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone) has played well with the snaps he’s had,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. “We’ll mix it around. We have some depth up front, so we have some guys that can do that, and we’ll play several guys there like we always do.”
Ojemudia and Jenkins-Stone have taken the bulk of the snaps at the BUCK position this season, with Jenkins-Stone making 12 tackles, one for a loss.
Durkin was asked whether redshirt freshman defensive end Lawrence Marshall was in the fold for time at the BUCK position, but Durkin was noncommittal, merely noting that Marshall was a good player.
TULEY-TILLMAN CHARGES: Wednesday, former Michigan offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman was charged with three felonies.
Tuley-Tillman is facing two counts of capturing and distributing an image of an unclothed person and one count of using a computer to commit a crime, the Ann Arbor News first reported. He was dismissed from the team on Sept. 10, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh did not specify a reason at the time, simply citing “conduct unacceptable for a Michigan student athlete.”
Tuley-Tillman joins Chris Fox (medical hardship), Kyle Bosch (transferred to West Virginia) and Dan Samuelson (transferring) as linemen in the 2013 recruiting class who have left the program.