It appears a previous report of Dennis Norfleet‘s status with Michigan has been exaggerated. After initial reports suggested Michigan dismissed Norfleet, now there are multiple reports saying Michigan has instead suspended the special teams star instead.
The conflicting reports come from Scout and ESPN. The reason for the suspension is still unknown, although ESPN‘s report backs up previous reports suggesting academic issues at play. Michigan representatives continue to say the issue is an internal manner.
The word that Norfleet had been dismissed by Michigan caught fire when his high school football coach, Dale Harvel, told MLive.com “Evidently he was dismissed from the team,” and “Dennis informed us he was no longer on the team.”
Norfleet had been playing multiple positions in spring practices in all three areas of the game — offense, defense and special teams. New head coach Jim Harbaugh had praised his versatility this spring as well and suggested Norfleet may even be able to play on all three units this season.
It has been quite an eventful 24 hours for the Michigan Wolverines. A day after news broke of Michigan self-reporting some minor NCAA violations under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have dismissed kick returner Dennis Norfleet.
A report by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com quotes a high school coach of Norfleet’s saying the kick return specialist is no longer a part of the program in Ann Arbor. The specifics of the dismissal are unknown and left in the rumor mill for now. As of now, the only explanation is a violation of team rules, although academics appear to be playing a role. Wolverine 247 reports Norfleet skipped more than one final exam in April.
“Evidently he was dismissed from the team, Dennis informed us he was no longer on the team,” Dale Harvel, Norfleet’s high school football coach, told MLive.com. “Something about a disciplinary thing between him and coach Harbaugh. Whether it was academics or something internal, I’m not sure. He just said they had a disagreement and he was let go.”
Harbaugh was most recently excited about the possibility of Norfleet playing in all three areas of the game in some capacity after giving him playing time in spring practices on offense and defense in addition to his special teams duties. So much for that, it seems.
Norfleet is Michigan’s all-time leader in kick returns and kick return yards. With Norfleet no longer in the fold, look for the Wolverines to try using Jabrill Peppers on special teams. That has potential to work out OK for Harbaugh.
Michigan needs to pick up two more wins to become bowl eligible this season. They will have to try and pick up one of those wins this afternoon against Northwestern without one of its better contributors on offense and special teams. Dennis Norfleet has taken to Instagraham to announce he is not playing today against the Wildcats.
Norfleet is fifth on the Wolverines offense with 102 receiving yards with zero touchdowns, but his biggest impact on the team has come on special teams. Michigan uses Norfleet to be the primary kickoff returner, and he has averaged just over 23 yards per return this season. Norfleet has also returned eight punts this season (for just 21 yards).
Earlier this week Michigan officially put Jabrill Peppers on the shelf for the remainder of the season, cutting one more special teams returner from the picture for the final few games this season.
Michigan needs to win two of its final three games in order to become bowl eligible. Michigan plays at Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. eastern.
Sometimes we forget how criticisms of football coach affect the players on the team. For a number of players who chose to commit to a school in large part to their relationship with the head coach, criticisms about the coach can be taken somewhat personally. Take Michigan wide receiver Dennis Norfleet, for example. On Tuesday Norfleet acknowledged the increasing criticisms of his head coach, Brady Hoke. Norfleet’s response to that talk is a reminder there is much more to coaching than winning football games(or so they say).
“I took it to heart this morning, they were really talking down on coach Hoke, saying his time is coming,” Norfleet said. “Coach Hoke does a lot. For me and the team. There have been times when I needed to see my family at a critical time, or I needed to see my daughter and he was there by my side throughout the way. It’s more than (just) football. In life, he’s a good coach. And right now, the way people are talking about him I don’t feel — and the team doesn’t feel — that it’s right.
Norfleet then took aim at fans, specifically, that seem to have turned on Hoke. That image was painfully put on display Saturday when after a lengthy weather delay the vast majority of Michigan Stadium was left unfilled once the game resumed. There were more Utah fans remaining in Michigan Stadium than Michigan fans, it is estimated. Utah was leading comfortably at the time of the break in the fourth quarter, but the image was lasting regardless.
“If we lose, if you’re a Michigan fan you’re supposed to be with us 100 percent to pick us up,” Norfleet said. “We need our fans just as much as we need a win. So, yes, it hurts. It hurts a lot.”
This is not meant to be a pity party for Hoke. Hoke has many responsibilities in his role as head coach. Norfleet suggests Hoke does many things admirably, and that very well could be the case. Unfortunately, the bottom line is Michigan has failed to meet expectations on the field at a time when the Big Ten has more or less been there for the taking. Michigan has not played in a Big Ten championship game in the first three years it has bene in place and the win total has dipped each season since Hoke’s debut in Ann Arbor.
There is still time for Hoke to turn things around at Michigan. With Big Ten conference play opening up, it is as close to a clean slate as any coach or team can get in a regular season. What Hoke does with his clean slate could determine his fate at the end of the season.
One of the big questions for Michigan’s offense in 2014 might have been who will replace wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, who helped to rewrite the school record books last fall. With a little bit of a depth concern at the position, Michigan looked to all-Big Ten tight end Devin Funchess to move to a wide receiver position this spring, and he continues to see all of his practice time coming on the outside rather than the tight end position.
“Right now it’s 100 percent outside,” Funchess said Sunday, according to MLive.com. “I don’t know what they’re going to do during the season, how that’s going to work out, but right now, I’m just 100 percent outside.”
Funchess set a school record by a tight end with 748 receiving yards last fall. Together with Gallon, the two set a school record for most combined receiving yards in a single season, passing former Wolverines Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Moving Funchess to wide receiver is not as much of a reach as it may seem at first glance, because he does offer some veteran leadership at the key position. He also adds some size to the position that should be just as viable a target in the passing game as any for Michigan.
Michigan is hoping to get the most out of some younger receivers this season as well. Freddy Canteen was impressive in the spring and could be ready for some decent playing time in the fall. Redshirt sophomore Jehu Chesson appears to be the third likely starter for the Michigan receivers, with the rest of the roster jockeying for position on the depth chart for the fall. Dennis Norfleet figures to be capable of playing into the mix as a top reserve and potentially get some first team reps as well.
So who is the likely replacement at tight end? That appears to be in the hands of Jake Butt, a sophomore who finished the 2013 season third on the team in receiving with 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns.