Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer (1.6.22)

Opening statement:

“Obviously, coming off of a tough loss. I do not think we played very well or not well enough on special teams to help us. We did some good things. Darn near blocked a punt. Had a nice kickoff return to start the second half. Made both of our kicks. We did not really want to give (Steelers WR Ray-Ray) McCloud an opportunity so we kicked a couple of touchbacks. The onside kick was close. I think we need to be more physical in there trying to get that thing out and try to dig it out of there. Overall, just not quite enough to win. The focus this week is finishing strong. People always ask, ‘What is there to play for?’ I think there is a lot to play for. When you coach and play in the NFL and have that opportunity and have that blessing, it is incredible. I love my job, and I know a lot of these guys love their job, as well. Our job is to go win games. We have another opportunity, the last opportunity of the season on Sunday afternoon against the division champion. If we beat them again, that is twice and you sweep them, and that is a big deal, especially for our fans and for our organization to go into the offseason with a good taste in your mouth. That has been our focus this week and will continue to be through the game on Sunday afternoon.”


On evaluating the Browns special teams units this season:

“I was thinking about that because I figured somebody as intelligent as you would ask that question. I think kickoff-wise, I think we did a great job. I thought (K) Chase (McLaughlin) kicked the ball well for us. I thought we covered our tails off. We have to finish strong on Sunday. We challenged as lot of good returners. I think we had an outstanding year on kickoff. Kickoff return, we were not quite as explosive. I think we were probably middle of the pack in terms of drive start average, but always looking for more there to help our offense. Our punt game was inconsistent, starting with the punter position. We used a lot of different gunners and rotated a lot of guys in there, and I do not think we were quite as good as I would have hoped that we would be on punts so that is going to be a focus in the offseason. Punt return, our average is not great, but we have returned I think 43 kicks for 317 yards, and that is probably a couple hundred punt return yards more than we had last year so to me, that is nearly 32 first downs for our offense. We are all about field position. I am not worried about average or stats. Would I like a touchdown in that phase? Of course, but I think we did a better job on punt return this year than last. Field goal, I thought we started the season great, and we have been a little inconsistent down the stretch. Field goal block, really it is amazing the people who seem to make all their kicks against us. The one that we tipped against Houston is the only one field goal they missed, and they missed a couple of PATs, but that is about it. Probably average. I am not looking for average. I am not satisfied with average. I hope that from here we continue to get better both scheme, fundamentals, technique and personnel, and that will be the focus this offseason.”


On the Browns’ leaders on special teams this season:

“ (S) M.J. Stewart did a great job for us just leading. (LB) Elijah Lee has been a great leader for us. (LB) Mack Wilson (Sr.) played well for us this year. (LB) Sione Takitaki did a great job this year. (TE) Harrison Bryant fills in and does a great job on field goal, punt and kickoff return. I am trying to think of some other guys – I do not want anybody to get mad at me for missing them. I think we have pretty good personnel here. We are always looking to get better, and if we stay healthy, but nobody stays healthy throughout the whole year. I think guys like (S) John Johnson (III) when he was healthy and running the punt team did a phenomenal job, and he is a great leader and a great teammate. I like our personnel. Do I hope we have more explosive returns next year? Of course. Do I hope we are more consistent at the punter and kicker positions? Of course. I like our guys. They play hard, and I think we have the right people here. We just have to keep building and getting better.”


On if the Browns missed TE Stephen Carlson on onside kicks, given Carlson’s multiple recoveries last season:

“We just had the one hands teams play this year. Last year, we had six or seven that were recovered, and Carlson recovered several of those. Harrison Bryant can do it. (TE) Austin Hooper has been out there for us. We just had the one we did not play as well as we had hoped, but we have to cover all of those to be honest with you.”


On how Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has navigated adversity this season, particularly since the adversity was different than that of last season:

“I think some people would say it is similar to last year, but I do not think it is because last year, it kind of hit us down the stretch a few people here and a few people there, but this year, the Raiders game was 20-25 guys, coaches and players missing. Other teams have run into that, too. Like I said last year, he did a great job of being very even keeled and handling every situation with a very calm demeanor, which I think really helps the whole team. There has always been a plan. There has always been a ‘what do we do if’ type of thing. I think we followed that plan. There is always that foundation, and that kind of gives a calming feeling to the entire team. We knew what that plan was going to be each and every week. I know we had some tough losses down the stretch that we felt like we should have won all of those games and we would be in the playoffs right now, but at the end of the day, I think he did not change. When you have a head coach and a leader who you know what to expect from him, that really helps the coaching staff and the players.”


On frustrations that the Browns have not been able to identify a reliably explosive returner:

“Anytime you come here with the success we had in Minnesota and then not have that same type of success, it is frustrating, but we are going to get there. That is going to be our plan and our focus this offseason. We are going to continue working on blocking better, continue working on better schemes and continue working on getting the best returner back there. That will be our main focus.”


On the importance of the team not overreacting to not performing as well as hoped this season:

“That is the thing I am going to talk about with the question about Kevin, we are not going to overreact. We do have to react. There has to be a focus this entire offseason of: where did we fall short, why did we fall short and where do we go from there? That is kind of what we do every year anyway in the offseason. We are always trying to get better. I am going to study the league leaders in the different phases, and I am going to study us and study our personnel and what can we do a little bit better schematically, what can we do better fundamentally, what personnel do we need to get and wat positions do we need to get better personnel? At the end of the day, we do that every offseason anyway. We are never going to overreact. I think that knee-jerk reaction never works anyway, and that is certainly not who our leaders are. Our head coach and our general manager do not react that way. They are very intelligent men who think through things, and I think we have a good staff, personnel staff and coaching staff that work extremely well together. I think that is going to benefit us going forward.”


On if the Browns need to bring in new returners for next season:

“It depends. (WR) Donovan (Peoples-Jones) plays so much offense now, and he gets a little bit banged up. (RB Demetric) Felton has been there, and (former Browns WR) JoJo (Natson) got hurt. I am not making excuses. That is just kind of the way NFL works. Would I like a second- or third-round pick who is just a returner? Of course. (Falcons WR) Cordarrelle Patterson was actually a late first-round pick, and he was the best kickoff returner in the National Football League for several years. (Former NFL KR-PR) Marcus Sherels was a college free agent who broke every Minnesota punt return record that we had, including scoring five times in the time we were together. I have had those guys before, and I hope that is kind of where we go in the future.”


On defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ performance this season, especially since Week 10:

“The great thing about Joe is he never panicked, he never overreacted and he never did a knee-jerk reaction. He believes in what he believes in, his staff believes in what they are doing and the players believe in what he is teaching and preaching. Joe does a fantastic job as a defensive coordinator and as the leader of that defense. He is going to be a head coach someday. I know that the defense got better because he stayed the course. He did not panic. He did not overreact. ‘Oh my gosh, what are other teams doing? We have to change everything we are doing.’ No, he just went back to the drawing board saying, ‘What do we do well? How do we put our guys in a position to be successful?’ I think that is what any good football coach does. That is what I try to do. I know that is what they try to do on offense. It is the National Football League. It is a long season, a 17-game season. You are going to have your highs and lows and your ups and downs. Probably the way Joe reacted after that New England game because I know it hurt him – he was down for a bit, maybe a day – and then he bounced back and got the guys playing hard again.”


On if there is a challenge as coaches to motivate players to not ‘go through the motions’ for this week’s game, given the team is out of playoff contention:

“If you are a professional football player and certainly a professional football coach, you never go through the motions. No. 1, we are paid to coach and play, and we are paid to win. That is the bottom line. We owe that to our organization and our owners, and we owe that to our fans all around the win who are Cleveland Browns fans, the best fans in the NFL. At the end of the day, the players have that name on the back of their jersey. They are being critiqued and they are being evaluated by all the other 31 teams, along with us, whether they stay here or go somewhere else, if they are a free agent or whatever the case may be. I told the guys this morning, we are very blessed to have this opportunity to coach and play in the NFL. To have one more opportunity in the 2021 season, what an incredible opportunity that it is for us to go out on Sunday afternoon against a very good football team and get after them. If you can’t get up for that because it is the National Football League… Like I tell you guys all of the time, I thank God every day for the opportunity I have to coach in this organization. If the players do not approach it that way, shame on them. If the coaches do not approach it that way, shame on them. I think we have a really good group of guys who are going to go out Sunday and finish the season strong.”


On if he would embrace the opportunity to become an NFL head coach and the lack of opportunities in the past for special teams coordinators to be considered for those roles:

“I think it is difficult for special teams coordinators because there is always that stigma that it is only special teams, which I think is ridiculous. I think we have to continue to promote good special teams coordinators for the opportunities to be head coaches. I think that is up to agents, and it is really talking to owners and saying, ‘Let’s get these guys in front of the owners. Let them interview.’ I would like to interview against some of these other coaches who are having opportunities to be head coaches. My wife asked me many years ago, she said, ‘Do you want to be a head coach someday?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ She said, ‘Well, you might want to get out of special teams’ because we are not getting a lot of chances, and it was probably really good advice (laughter). At the end of the day, I absolutely love what I do. I love being the special teams coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. If I am a special teams coordinator until I retire in 10 years or so, so be it and that is OK. I think there are a lot of good special teams coordinators who should have opportunities because it all comes down to leadership. It is not calling offensive plays or defensive players or even special teams; it is all about leadership and leading a group of men into a season to prepare during the spring and the summer and throughout the season, all the adversity, etc. I have been around some really good head coaches, including the one we have here. I think you learn from every good head coach, and you kind of take on, use your personality and learn the good and bad that you see from your leaders and you continue to move on. I did that in the Navy, and I would do that in coaching, as well. I would welcome the opportunity to be a head coach. We will see.”


On his philosophy on drafting prospective Ks, particularly given Bengals K Evan McPherson’s success this year:

“I think you need to draft the right guy. I do not think you draft a kicker just to draft a kicker or draft a punter just to draft a punter. When I went down and was there for the workout and I saw (Bengals special teams coordinator/assistant head coach) Coach (Darrin) Simmons there from Cincinnati and some other special teams coordinators from around the league, that was a fine young kicker, and we knew right then and there he was the best kicker coming out this year. Cincinnati grabbed him, and they have done a nice job with him. They have used him really well, and he has made some big plays and big kicks for them. He does have a big leg. He kicks off well. He is a good kid, a good head on his shoulders. I think part of that is being mature enough to handle that situation. Some kickers who are drafted or signed as college free agents even, when they are rookies, they are not quite ready. That happens a lot with kickers because it is such a mental game. I think Evan is a very mature young man who has handled it well, and I think I knew that when I interviewed him and talked with him. I know Cincinnati saw a lot in him, too, and that is why they drafted him.”


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