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Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson (in blue) and kicker Quinn Nordin talk about their paintball experience. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

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Ann Arbor — While special teams coordinator Chris Partridge is keeping mum on the punter competition — do not adjust your glasses or wipe your eyes because you read that correctly — he is encouraged by the improvement Quinn Nordin has made as a kicker and also how he is maturing.

Nordin was a redshirt freshman last year. He did some fun freshman things, like debut a freshly cut “Wild Thing” haircut in the season opener against Florida. And while more mature, he’s still fun. During the team’s paintball outing in Paris in April, he was the lone wolf who went unprotected in a sleeveless faux tuxedo T-shirt and proudly displayed his bruises and paint markings after fearlessly taking on round after round of paintball missiles.

Kickers are a different breed, and Nordin is unique even under that umbrella.

But Patridge assures he has taken a focused approach in camp as the season opener nears on Sept. 1 at Notre Dame.

“Quinn’s just growing up as a person, as a leader on this team,” Partridge said this week. “It’s been really good to see. And that’s really what it is, it’s being able to handle that and understanding how to adjust when things happen. He was just a redshirt freshman last year. His maturity and his leadership has really taken a step up this year, and I think that’s going to relate to him on the field, as well.

“The important thing for our kicker is, you’re not going to always be perfect throughout your whole career. When you miss and when you have a fault, or something happens, how do you fix it? Do you realize what happened and how do you rebound from it and not let it get in your own head? Quinn’s maturity will help with that.”

Nordin is gifted with a strong leg, but he went through a three-game stretch — including what appeared to be an exchange of words on the sideline with coach Jim Harbaugh at Maryland — where he missed three field goals. He was 19-of-24 last season on field-goal attempts and missed an extra point.

Now, Nordin is working with a new holder and snapper.

“I just see it in the conversations I have with him with the way he’s around the other specialists,” Partridge said of Nordin’s maturity. “We brought in a new group of specialists this year and how he’s handling that. And how he’s handling the team during special-teams periods. How he’s working every day. How he shows up here early, ready to go. And how he scheduled himself out throughout this camp, it’s just been incredible. It’s been good to watch.”

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UM special teams coordinator Chris Partridge says kicker Quinn Nordin is more mature. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

Nordin routinely booms kicks in pre-game warmups. He has continued to boom them in camp.

“He’s hit some, now,” Partridge said. “Live work, he’s gone from 55ish. Just on his own, I betcha he’s hit a 62-, 63-yarder out there — snapper, holder, kicker situation.”

Partridge is in a unique situation coaching safeties and also special teams. Coaches fine tune how they coach each player — it’s not a position-group-wide approach — but the wide variety on special teams gives him an opportunity to flex his coaching muscles.

“You can’t coach all the safeties the same way, you can’t coach all the linebackers the same way, so you need to adapt and understand how to coach each individual player,” he said. “That’s why I love special teams. There are so many different players, it keeps you on your toes all the time. You’re always thinking, ‘How do you motivate this guy? What can this guy do right? To me, it’s different, but it’s not anything that much different than anything else.”

Nordin, however, isn’t all that different than Partridge's defensive players.

“I’ll admit, I coach Quinn like I would coach a middle linebacker,” said Partridge, who coached linebackers last year. “He’s got that mentality. He’s an easy one there. You could throw him in at middle linebacker, and he’s not going to back down.

“I don’t know if he’ll get run over or not, but he won’t back down."

Partridge said he is all for Nordin maintaining his unique style.

“I loved it,” he said of the "Wild Thing" haircut. “Go out there and be yourself as long as it doesn’t take away from your day-to-day grind, your performance. As long as it doesn’t take away from your play on the field."

While Nordin is the kicker, Partridge wouldn’t budge on naming the punters. Go figure. He said there is not a No. 1 punter in what appears to be the most hotly contested position competition in camp.

“We have three guys that I feel good about that they’re punting really well now,” he said.  “I don’t want to talk about individuals there. We’ve got guys that are competing."

He was more willing to discuss the return game. Donovan Peoples-Jones wasn’t particularly sharp early on as a returner last year as a freshman, but he has improved and been “more natural” Partridge said.

“We have a bunch of guys back there working,” Partridge said. “Ambry’s (Thomas) been really good and that year of experience will be good for him. David Long works back there, Lavert Hill works back there, Donovan works back there. Two young guys, Michael Barrett and Ronnie Bell, are catching the ball well and can explode. Brad Hawkins is back there. We have a good group of stable guys. We haven’t picked a starter yet or two starters yet."

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UM special teams coordinator Chris Partridge on the return-game options Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

The Wolverines, he said, will be close to breaking things out in the return game this fall.

“The experience is incredible,” he said. “We were able to do more, put more on their plate. They get it. They get their body into better positions. We’re very excited about the ability and the potential of our special teams unit as a whole.”

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown has said this defense could be the fastest he’s been around. Partridge agreed with that assessment and then added another layer.

“Fastest special teams we’ve been around, too,” Partridge said. “Just explosive. Can run, can bend. Yeah, we’re fast, for sure.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/chengelis

 

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