Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer (10.28.21)

Opening statement:

“Good afternoon, everybody. Coming off of an excellent team win last Thursday. Our mind and our focus obviously have been on the Pittsburgh Steelers. A huge, huge week for our organization and where we are in our season. An AFC North opponent. It is exciting times around here. Again, beautiful weather here in Cleveland as we have come to expect this year (laughter). Excited about the week.”


On the Browns’ exemplary kickoff coverage this year:

“It starts with the kicker (Chase McLaughlin). He has done a really nice job of a little bit of directional [kicking] but mainly getting the hangtime we need. We call them hangtime kicks. We are trying to get some teams goal line, some teams three [yards] deep and some teams five-yard line and as much hangtime as possible. It starts with him. Because we covered well early, I think guys have confidence now. As I tell them all of the time, do not get comfortable; be confident and have a little bit of swagger, but never get comfortable because it just takes one to hurt your stats – not that I am a stats guy – but hurts your football team. I am very pleased with where we are right now. The great thing last week is we had three or four guys out, and the next guy stepped up and did a real nice job for us.”


On being happy for and proud of RB D’Ernest Johnson following last week’s performance, given Johnson primarily established a role on special teams prior to getting the first start at RB against the Broncos:

“My daughters and everybody in my family will laugh at me, but I had tears in my eyes after that last game because (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) was talking about D’Ernest after the game and gave him the game ball. He has been through so much, and he has worked so hard. He has done a great job for us on special teams. Like I have told you guys before, anytime a special teamer steps up and does a great job on offense or defense, that is all I can talk about. He was outstanding. All I told him during the week was just do your thing and protect the ball, and he did all of that and more. I was real proud of him.”


On Johnson displaying a typical NFL progression of earning a role and contributing on special teams before getting opportunities on offense or defense and if he can see that mindset and dedicate right away with young players:

“Absolutely, most of the time, it is attitude and effort. I tell them to do what I ask you to do and coach you to do, and then let God take over, let your talent take over and let your abilities take over. He is one of those guys who has done that. A lot of our good special teamers who we have here now and in the past have bought into being good special teams players first and foremost and then they go from there.”


On P Jamie Gillan punting better in recent weeks and what has led to the improved performance:

“Yes. He worries too much sometimes. Sometimes if you overthink stuff, like any young kicker or punter, you have issues. We basically told him to go out there and just focus on a good drop, kick up and through the ball and do your thing. He has done a much better job the last two weeks.”


On what he saw from Johnson when initially joining the Browns and now and the team drafting RB Demetric Felton, adding to the competition in the running backs room:

“What he did, he knew obviously when we drafted Demetric that it was going to be tougher for him to make our football team. The early conversations I had with him back in the spring were, ‘I just have to go out, compete, work hard every day and let the chips fall where they may.’ That is what he did. I was real proud of the way he competed. A lot of guys would get angry. A lot of guys would have their feelings hurt. A lot of guys would go in the tank. He did not do that. He stepped up to the challenge, and he did a nice job for us in the preseason and earned a spot on this football team, which ultimately helped us win a game last Thursday.”


On the last time he teared up following a game prior to last Thursday:

“Pretty much every time we win (laughter). Winning is hard in the NFL. That was pretty cool. That was a cool moment for D’Ernest and a cool moment for really our whole team because that exemplifies who we are – next man up. We talk about that from Kevin, (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and everybody on down. That was kind of a really, really good thing for our organization. For the rest of the players to see that, what that guy has been through and to compete and to play so well to help us win that game was a really cool thing.”


On if there was any discussion of him taking on head coaching duties for this Steelers game, given he was the interim head coach for the AFC Wild Card Win at Pittsburgh when Stefanski was out due to COVID-19 protocols:

“No (laughter). I have enough to worry about with special teams. Obviously, it was a great moment for our city a year ago, but that was back in January.”


On what mementos he has from last season’s AFC Wild Card Win at Pittsburgh:

“The whole team got a game ball – the whole organization did. My memento was having my wife and children there. That was really cool. All four of my kids and my wife were there. It was a very special moment for our family but even more so a special moment for this team and this city. Like I said after that game, in 20 years from now, I can look back and say that was a really awesome moment. It will always be an awesome moment, but now our focus is on the Steelers this week.”


On what led to the blocked FG last week:

“They did a great job. They had great get-off, and they got underneath our right guard’s pads. He was back on his heels, which is exactly what we do not teach. He got knocked back, and good penetration by them. That was a good kick, a solid kick and the timing was good. It was all our right guard. It was poor technique, and I did not have him prepared so it will not happen again.”


On if DT Andrew Billings has played on FG protect with the Browns prior to last week:

“He has been there before. He takes reps every week as a backup. We had some injuries on the offensive line, as you know, so I try to complement our field goal team with defensive players, as well as offensive linemen, just in case we do have injuries like that. I did not have him prepared, and it was poor technique on his part. He has been out there two or three times before, and he has done a nice job. He got caught off guard, and [Broncos DE Shelby Harris] did a nice job.”


On liking Billings’ size on the FG protect unit:

“Oh, there is no doubt – love his size. He maybe will be used there again. We will get it fixed.”


On Steelers P Pressley Harvin III’s leg strength and if that changes the Browns’ approach on special teams:

“Really liked him coming out of Georgia Tech, and Pittsburgh was smart enough to draft him because I think they needed a punter and they were looking to make a change there. He is a young guy who has a big-time leg, as you know. I think he is trying to be a bit of a directional punter. Every now and then he will knock one out of bounds at 20 yards, 30 yards or somewhere in that area. We have to be prepared for all of that stuff – the shorter, higher kick or a bomb. My job on Sunday will be to make sure that Demetric gets aligned correctly so we put him in the best position to get to all of those punts.”


On Steelers K Chris Boswell:

“He is really good. He has had a nice career there. I know he got a little banged up towards the end of last year. He kicks off well. He can kick off directionally. He can kick off short, deep, whatever he wants to do or squibs. Obviously, his PATs and field goals have been excellent this year, and they typically are. To kick in that venue that he kicks in week in and week out at home and then coming here, going to Baltimore and going to Cincinnati and still performing well in tough conditions is a tribute to him.”


On McLaughlin’s 52-yard FG into the Dawg Pound and how windy the conditions were:

“It was fairly windy. It was probably a little bit windier in pregame. He made a 57-yarder or 55-yarder in that area in pregame, and that gave us a lot of confidence. Kevin and I talk pregame all of the time about what the winds are doing, how well he did pregame and how confident he is. Like I told you guys the last couple of weeks, Chase is a mentally tough young man, and he has done a really nice job for us this year.”


On gaining more confidence in McLaughlin as the season progresses after joining the team during the past offseason:

“Anytime a young man performs that well, you are going to have more and more confidence and you are going to give him more and more opportunities. If he was struggling a little bit with the long ones, we would not attempt those. We would either punt there or go for it. He has now allowed us to use him as a weapon for our football team. He has made some big kicks for us.”


On if he was surprised Johnson did not have a TD celebration planned for last week, given how well he knows Johnson:

“No, he is one of the more humble guys I have ever met in my life. If he did, I would have given him a really hard time. I was teasing him all of last week. I am like, ‘Hey, do not worry about coming to special teams meeting. You are too big time for me now. You are a big offensive player and superstar.’ He won FedEx Ground Player of the Week. I will never get him back now – no, I am only kidding (laughter). I am so proud of him.”


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