Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer (12.21.22)


Opening statement:

“Obviously, coming off of a huge win last weekend and building some momentum. Played really well overall on special teams against what I think is the best special teams unit in the NFL. I was real proud of the way our guys covered kicks. We punted and covered punts very well. Had the one kickoff return. I thought it was a great way to start the game. We got called for holding which is unfortunate. That doesn’t happen to us very often because of the way we play and the way we teach it. Obviously, (Ravens K) Justin (Tucker) was kind enough to miss a field goal at the end of the first half and then we blocked one late in the game, which was a huge play for us. Obviously, we have to finish strong and get our kicker to make those kicks at the end at least one of them. At the end of the day, I was real pleased with our performance, and we helped our football team win that game. Now, we have another team coming in here who is very good on special teams. They are well coached. They are a big fake team. They have been over the years with (Saints TE) Taysom Hill and some of the other things they do so we have to be prepared for all of that.”


On how RB Jerome Ford has grown as a kick returner:

“We weren’t dressing him early on either so it was hard to use a guy or focus on a guy who wasn’t going to be dressing. (Head) Coach (Kevin Stefanski) and I talked about it early in the year, and he has the skillset, he runs really hard and he has the running back vision that we always talk about. You are right, he has grown in that role. Continually talking to him about ball security. Continually talking to him about studying the approach of the kicker. He and I spent a lot of extra time together in my office on Thursdays and Fridays and sitting down, watching the tape, watching the practice and watching the game tape having him understand the nuances of being a really solid kickoff returner. To me, it is just the tip of the iceberg. He is only scratching the surface right now because he has the ability to be really good in that role.”


On if K Cade York’s miss wide left was more concerning than the other missed FG:

“NFL kickers shouldn’t kick balls like that, and he knows that. I don’t know if it was a loss of focus or the time of the game. There is really no excuse for that type of kick.”


On S John Johnson III saying before the game that the only way Tucker would miss two kicks was to block one:

“Justin doesn’t miss too many kicks overall. He came up to me and kind of joked around and made fun of the way I said it in the meeting – those guys like to make fun of the old guy – but I did say that in the meeting and I am like, ‘The only way he’s going to miss one is if we block one.’ Of course, he missed one in the first half so I guess I was incorrect in that statement (laughter). It was great effort by our field goal block team. (DT) Jordan (Elliott) did a phenomenal job getting a hand up in the kick plane. We knew he was going to have to drive it a little bit into that area in that end because the wind was really starting to pick up and it was a 50-yard field goal. It was a huge play for our football team, the momentum and everything else that goes with that type of play.”


On how weird it was that York and Tucker each missed two FGs on Saturday:

“Yeah, it was unexpected to be sure. The winds, they were supposed to die down a little bit as the game wore on. I think in the fourth quarter they actually picked up. We were kicking with the wind so the expectation is to make those type of kicks, but you never know. The winds do swirl up at altitude, and the longer the kick, the more difficult it is obviously because the wind will affect it a little more.”


On if CB Denzel Ward’s pressure around the edge affected Tucker’s missed FG:

“I don’t think so. You would like to think so against young kicker, but Justin has faced a lot of pressure over the years. It was a great effort by Denzel – don’t get me wrong, it was a really, really nice job by him. He timed it up and almost got there. You never know what goes through a kicker’s mind in that instance, but I think it has more of an impact than not rushing or not having any pressure at all.”


On Ward’s ability on FG block:

“He has blocked several in his career. He has great get-off, and he is a phenomenal athlete. He has great speed. In fact, the very first kick, Tucker’s only field goal he made, I thought he should have dove. He times it up perfect. If he dives, he might have a chance to block it off of the edge.”


On a significant number of York’s misses occurring at home:

“He has missed the two PATs this year, both of those at home. A tough place to kick. Not making excuses for him. We keep talking about how young he is. He knows it is time to step up. He knows that we need him to make those kicks. He knows that when it is 13-3, it is in the fourth quarter and you have a chance to put a team away or at least make it a 13-point game, you have to make those kicks. A credit to Cade is that he is very hard on himself. He never makes excuses ever. We are just trying to figure out how to make him the consistent type of player that he is. If you look at the 47-yarder into the Dawg Pound first half, that is a thing of beauty now. That was a great kick. That wasn’t an easy kick at all because it was really swirling at that time, and I was real proud of that one that put us up 3-0. That was a big kick. You know it is in there. That is just that the tough part for all of us, including Cade, is that he is not as consistent as we need him to be. That will be the goal down the stretch here.”


On if York has practiced more at FirstEnergy Stadium recently:

“We have been down twice in the last week. Since probably the preseason, we did. We were supposed to go and then somebody – I don’t know who it was, whoever tore up the field – we were supposed to go down that day, but they wouldn’t let us go down because they were fixing up the field. That was another time we had planned on going down there. We were waiting on later in the year as it got windier and colder.”


On if York not hitting some kicks as cleanly as desired mitigates some of the environmental effects or evaluation of misses at FirstEnergy Stadium:

“I think so. Anytime you practice in the venue you are going to play in, I think it is going to help him at least mentally. Like I said, it is in there. I think we all saw – I am going to go back to the 47-yarder; you guys keep bringing up the misses, and I am going to keep bringing up the make – he makes a 47-yarder, he makes a PAT, and he makes a 23-yarder all into the Dawg Pound end. That is [seven] points right there, and we won 13-3. There are a lot of really good things going on. I can’t make excuses for him. He is not going to make excuses. Do we need to kick better? Of course, and he will. I am not into predictions, but my gut tells me he is going to continue to get better for us because he is that talented.”


On weather conditions expected on Saturday:

“It is going to be fun. We get to play the Saints, and they play indoors. It is going to be fun.”


On how much inclement weather impacts gameplans on special teams:

“Everything. It affects everything to be honest with you. You don’t do wholesale gameplan changes, but it is all of the different situational kicks – it is a shorter kickoff, it is a miss-hit kickoff, it is a shorter punt or it is a punt that might hit our corners and safeties if we are in a vice so you have to be ready for the ‘peter’ call. You have to talk about the sideline rules: establish yourself out of bounds on kickoff and then touch the ball and get the ball at the 40 like (former Browns WR) JoJo (Natson) did a year ago. You talk about all of the different situations that we have been talking about all year. They all just kind of encompass into one game now. Anything can happen in a wind game, and we have to use that to our advantage. It has to be the Cleveland Browns advantage, the weather and the wind in our home stadium because that is where we play, and that is how we like it.”


On York seeming to have more challenges kicking west rather than east into the Dawg Pound, which historically has been more difficult to kick toward:

“Usually, the expectation is to make more on the other end going towards our locker room because I don’t want to say it is easier but it is a higher percentage of making kicks in that end. That would be the focus going forward. He is really locked in in the Dawg Pound end and will be just as locked in on the other end, as well.”


On how to help York from the mental standpoint of the game:

“Because he is young – we have talked about his youth before – the mental part of it is huge. The thing about  Cade is that he is a very confident young man. I have been around a lot of young kickers where if what happened to him on Saturday happened to them, they are done for the year and they unravel. He went down to the stadium and was crushing the ball. He made a 60-yarder, and it was freezing cold – the wind wasn’t big yesterday – but we have that all on tape. He hit a 60-yarder into the Dawg Pound end. Who does that after the game he had the other day? He is very confident. He knows he is good. He knows what he has to work on. I think the thing is I am not going to give him false confidence, I guess is the word, but I am going to help him with his confidence and we are going to go back to the kicks that he has made in the tough situations where he has made him and kind of build from there. Focusing on the negative is not who I am anyway. I am a very positive and glass-half-full guy anyways. I think that is the way you deal with any young player at any position who is struggling. The mental part of it, you have to really boost them up and say, ‘Hey, look at all of the great things you are doing. Now, let’s do that more often.’ That type of concept.”


On evaluating snaps and holds on the FG unit:

“They have been great. The snap, the hold and the protection has been outstanding all year, knock on wood.”


On Saints WR/RS Rashid Shaheed:

“He for a young guy has a lot of confidence. He can come up on the short kicks. He is not worried about running back catching one over his shoulder – I am talking about punts. I think he is a better punt returner because he is so quick and he has speed. Kickoff returner, he is good, too. You would like a bigger athlete as a kickoff returner, but he can still break tackles because he can make people miss. He is very dangerous. He is another young guy who is gaining confidence as the year goes on because he was not the starter early on. I think (Saints WR/RS Deonte) Harty No. 11 was the starter. When he went down, this guy has come up, and he has done a really nice job. We liked him coming out [of college]. I think he had some medical stuff going on that we didn’t’ think about drafting him or whatever, but I know he has done a really nice job for New Orleans.”


On how impressive it is that Hill can play such a significant role on special teams while taking on so much responsibility on offense:

“He is a football player through and through. I am kind of going to date myself. You remember Gordie Lockbaum from Holy Cross? Gordie Lockbaum was a great player, a I-AA player, but he was phenomenal. He kind of reminds me of him. He does everything. He is on kickoff return; he runs the punt team and we call him the fullback and he runs the fakes, throwing fakes or whatever and he has lined up at punter and faked it before; and he is on punt return rushing the punt, and you always have to find him because he can run over your wing or up and under your wing because he is so athletic, big, strong and fast. He is just a great football player. I think every team would love to have a guy like him.”


On York getting acclimated to the NFL with support from Browns veterans who also contribute on special teams:

“He knows it is time to adjust full bore now. We have 14 games under our belt, and we have three to go. He has been around long enough now. Veteran guys like to tease the rookies, ‘Hey, you are not a rookie anymore. This is Week 16 coming up and our 15th game is coming up.’ For Cade, he has kicked enough games in our stadium and he has kicked enough games in the NFL, now it is time – not that he hasn’t and I think he is trending in that direction – for him to show up for us on a more consistent basis. He knows that, and I am excited for his future here.”


On who on the team has also helped York adjust to elements of the NFL game:

“Any of the guys. (LS) Charley (Hughlett) has been a huge influence on any of our young players. (P) Corey (Bojorquez) has only been in the league three years, but he has helped a lot, too. These guys, they do a great job of communicating about the wind. Corey, Cade and Charley are always talking about the winds and the weather in our stadium or the opposing team’s stadium wherever we go. They do a really good job communicating. Cade communicates with Corey how he wants the ball held a certain tilt a certain weight forward or if it is into the wind a left-to-right crosswind, right-to-left crosswind, etc. All of those things they continually talk about and help each other out with.”


On if there is a sense of competition about York wanting to attempt a long FG in the same manner Tucker did in the past:

“I don’t know. Maybe. I just hope our guys are getting focused on playing, but I am smart enough to know there is a little bit of pride there for both of those guys. I don’t know. I would just like to make all of our PATs and we will go from there, especially this week and with the weather. We will kind of leave it at that.”


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