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ACC coaching preferences run the gamut on kickoffs

Wednesday - 9/5/2012, 8:28pm  ET

By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer

- It looks like ACC coaches will be tinkering all season with strategies on how to best tackle the new kickoff rule.

After just a week into the season, some around the Atlantic Coast Conference say their approaches could change game to game.

While Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher probably plans to always utilize his team's return and coverage ability, others will just let the other team start at the 25 yard-line rather than risk allowing a big return.

Fisher said the Seminoles will be in constant attack mode.

They have a kicker who can boot it high and inside the 5. And with reliable, speedy coverage teams, Fisher said this week his team will gain anywhere from 8 to 12 to 15 yards a kickoff.

"With our athleticism and our ability to kick the football, I think it's something we've got to take advantage of," Fisher said.

Of course, not everyone in the ACC shares Fisher's approach.

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is hoping for a steady dose of touchbacks.

"Last year we didn't kick off very well and we had several kicks returned against us out to around the 35 yard line," Grobe said.

North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien feels Grobe's pain.

O'Brien said giving the opponent the ball at the 25 would be an improvement over what the Wolfpack was able to do last year. But just as kicking the ball in play has risks, so does banking on being able to eliminate returns. The Wolfpack heads to the northeast this week to play Connecticut.

"I don't know if it'll be windy up there or not, but I think the wind will come into play in the future," he said.

O'Brien, apparently, also will gladly accept starting a drive at the 25.

"Pretty much, if the ball's kicked into the end zone, I was told to just down it," NC State kickoff return man Tobias Palmer said of the Wolfpack's approach. He said knows the rule is safety-oriented, but doesn't like it.

In the Wolfpack's game against Tennessee, the Vols kicked off seven times and got three touchbacks. Palmer had three of the four NC State returns, including one he took back 43 yards.

"There were times last week when we played Tennessee where I just wanted to run. But I had to wait, be patient, and when I actually had a chance to actually run a kickoff return out, I made the best of it and almost returned it for a touchdown," the wide receiver said. "Hopefully, I'll get more of those."

If he gets too many more, that could set the opponents strategy for them.

Clemson has two dynamic kickoff returners in Sammy Watkins and Martavius Bryant. Like Palmer, they will factor greatly into the risk vs. reward discussions when teams are game-planning.

"I want them to kick it to us," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said, adding that he wouldn't kick it to his guys. "I really want us to return it because I think we have a chance to get it to the 30 or the 35 if we execute like we're capable of. But I don't think we'll see a lot of that. I hope we do."

That doesn't mean Swinney will return the favor. He said who is receiving the ball for his opponent will determine how he uses the new rule.

"It's a decision you've got to make every week _ who's the return guys? " he said.

Mike London agrees with the strategy.

"As the season goes on, you'll see different kicks, squibs, on the ground when the ball is live and those loop kicks. We'll practice all of them," the Virginia coach said. "But I think the guys returning the kicks will be the one we'll probably look at and say, `What do we want to do with this guy?'"

London also hopes teams keep kicking to Khalek Shepherd, too. He had two long kickoffs in the Cavaliers' 43-19 victory against Richmond _ one for 59 yards, and leads the ACC with a 45-yard average.

Weather will also become a factor in what teams do, even for teams with kickers with a powerful leg, making being prepared for anything critical.

"These guys, you really have to coach them," Swinney said, "and make sure they stay prepared.

"All of a sudden, it's cry wolf, cry wolf, cry wolf, cry wolf," he said. "... they kick it a little short, and the guys are not quite as dialed in because they hadn't defended one yet and the guys lose that sense of urgency. That's something, I think, that is going to create some issues along the way."

___

AP sports writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C., Aaron Beard in Winston- Salem, N.C., Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, N.C., David Ginsburg in College Park, Md., and Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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