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Special Teams Under Spotlight This Weekend


Josh Bidwell isn't usually the center of attention in the Green Bay Packers' locker room, but he wasn't surprised to be swarmed by members of the media Wednesday.

That's what happens when you're days away from a date with Kansas City Chiefs return man Dante Hall.

"I was waving you over here in case you didn't know where my locker was," Bidwell said with a laugh. "I haven't seen a lot of you guys this year."

Ranked No. 1 in the NFL in punt situations and No. 2 in the NFC in kickoff situations, the Packers' coverage units have been suffocating opponents under the direction of coordinator John Bonamego this season.

But through five games the Packers haven't come up against anyone quite like Hall, who already has four returns for touchdowns in 2003 -- two on punts and two on kickoffs.

With all due respect to running back Priest Holmes, who leads the NFL in total yards with 681, no Chiefs player has been as dominating as Hall this year.

"This guy is special," Bidwell said. "It's definitely kind of scary, but I think we have a good game plan. I think we have good coverage if anything does happen, and we'll be prepared to corral this guy."

The Packers' plan for Sunday isn't necessarily to keep the ball out of Hall's hands, but to limit where he can go with his feet.

On punts, Bidwell said the Packers will gladly sacrifice distance for hang time, allowing the coverage unit to swarm Hall to try and force fair catches.

Nixed has been the idea of directional punting, in which the Packers would attempt to avoid Hall altogether by punting the ball out of bounds.

Bonamego said this week that directional punting created too much room for error, and even Kansas City head coach Dick Vermeil said he wouldn't try it if he had to go up against Hall.

"There are a lot of punters that cannot efficiently directional punt," Vermeil said in a conference call with the Wisconsin media Wednesday. "Soon as they try ... the ball shanks and goes out of bounds and you are getting those short 17- to 20-yard punts."

Bidwell suggested that part of the problem is the introduction of the 'K' ball.

While other footballs are significantly broken in before they are used in a game, balls used in the kicking game are shipped from the manufacturer to game officials to be opened two hours before game time and marked with a the letter 'K.'

The stiffer ball -- even harder in cooler temperatures like the Packers see at Lambeau Field -- reduces its flight compared to a broken-in ball.

"With the K-ball rule, even the best directional punters in the league aren't as effective as they would be," said Bidwell, who utilized directional punting while at the University of Oregon.

"When you factor in kicking balls that we have to kick here in Lambeau Field with the conditions that we have to kick under, it's really unrealistic to think that you can directional punt any kind of consistent way. That's why guys abandon directional punts when they come to Lambeau Field."

For the Packers' hang time-over-distance strategy to work Sunday, the offense has to help the special teams unit by moving the football.

Bidwell said he doesn't anticipate kicking anything in the neighborhood of 50 yards, but that's a dangerous concept if the Packers are pinned deep in their own territory.

"When I'm kicking into the red zone and I know that I have to kick a ball about 35 yards with hang time, it's real easy because if I miss the ball I still get a chance to have it covered and get inside the 20(-yard line)," Bidwell said.

"But if I'm backed up any type of way, it'll be tough to have a pooch-punt mentality, because my back's on our end zone and if I miss a punt a lot more is riding on that. So I still try to take that approach, but it is tougher for me."

On kickoffs, Ryan Longwell said that the Packers will do their best to keep the Chiefs guessing.

Already this season the Packers have utilized multiple kickoff formations to disguise their attack and make it difficult for the return team to predict the path of least resistance.

"I think the consistent game plan is to be inconsistent," Longwell said. "You don't want them to get comfortable and set to where they know where the ball is going, so they know where they can set the wedge."

Hall already has demonstrated what he can do with the slightest opening this season. He made multiple would-be tacklers miss in a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown last weekend.

But the Packers' coverage units haven't looked too shabby either.

"We want to be one of the best, if not the best, special teams unit in the league," Longwell said. "To do that, you've got to go against the best, and Dante Hall is the best."

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