Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer (6.17.21)


Opening statement:

“It was a great week. It was great to have everybody here. As I told the guys at the beginning of the week, this week was important, and we wanted to set the tone for training camp. We covered five different phases. The only thing we did not get to was field goal block, but we did the other core phases. We did field goal today. We kind of got the baseline where it needs to be, and we have to come back ready to work during training camp.”


On Browns players who may possibly be options as returners:

“It was great to have (WR) JoJo (Natson) back. I think he is moving along really well. I know he is probably not totally 100 percent, but he is getting there. Obviously, he brings the quickness and explosion that we did not have when he got hurt last year. (WR) Donovan (Peoples-Jones) has been around this week. He is catching punts. He has not caught punts since January, and he is catching them like he has been catching them every day. (RB) D’Ernest Johnson [is another guy]. (RB) Demetric Felton is a guy who we have back there working as a punt returner, as well. (WR) Ryan Switzer is another guy. We have a lot of competition. We have a lot of different types of skillsets. For me, it is a wide-open job so we are going to see what happens here down the road.”


On if Natson will be fully ready by training camp:

“(Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development) Joe Sheehan and our medical staff have done a great job of getting him ready. He has worked extremely hard, and they have worked extremely hard with him. We just have to trust their judgment. If they say he is 100 percent, we are going to throw everything at him, get him in the preseason games and see what he can do.”


On the Dallas Morning News’ annual special teams rankings listing the Browns with a less than optimal grade in 2020 and how much the unit needs to improve in 2021:

“We have a lot of improving to do. We need to improve our return game immensely. We started the season slow on kickoff coverage, and I thought we ended the season well. (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul DePodesta uses a formula that basically takes into account everything during a game, and he gives a point to every play with his analytics. I like that because when we played those three games in November, it was horrendous weather. Obviously, it is easier to have better stats in [better conditions]. When I was in Minnesota, we played nine game a year indoors, including Detroit, so it was easier to have better net punt and do a better job on kickoff. I am not making excuses because the weather is the weather. I love the weather in Cleveland. I think we have that to our advantage. I know we started slow, but we ended really, really strong.  We won at least seven of the last eight games, including the playoff games. That is what I look for. Pridefully, would I like our stats to look better? Of course, and we need to do a better job across the board. That will be the constant message in training camp – constant improvement every single day, not so much to get the stats better but to put our team in position to win.”


On the kicking competition heading into training camp:

“(K) Cody (Parkey), we asked him to get stronger this offseason because last offseason, we had the virus, and he did not want to go to the weight room – his wife was pregnant at the time, and he did not want to jeopardize anything and nobody knew what was going on, and I do not blame him. I think he lost some of that strength so when he showed up for camp [last year], he was not quite as strong as he had been. He put on seven or eight pounds of muscle. He looks really good. He is stronger. He is kicking off better. He feels more confident. He still has a little bit of work to do, and he has positioned himself very well for this competition. (K) Chase (McLaughlin) is a young man who I really liked from Illinois a couple of years ago. He has bounced around the league, as you guys know. Chase provides great competition for Cody. They were very, very even this entire spring. Today was the only day we could do team [field goal] because we had all of our offensive line back. We did team today, and I think Chase was six for seven and Cody was five for seven, which we need to improve. I want them to be seven for seven to be honest with you across the board. It was a beautiful day today. It is going to be great competition. I think it is not so much field goals and PATs that probably take some more precedence, but kickoffs, as well. We need to improve our kickoffs, and the kicking part of our kickoffs needs to improve, as well.”


On if a team is able to help coach an NFL kicker to improve with FG distance:

“I think being stronger is going to help. Both of these guys are strong young kickers. When you go into any game, the distance is going to be predicated by the weather to be quite honest with you. It is going to be headwind, tail wind or cross wind. Dawg Pound end or locker room end, especially in our stadium, obviously. I do not think you can so much teach it, but you can help them and coach them in that you do not want to change your technique a whole lot with the longer field goals. If you think they have an opportunity to make this kick because of their leg strength, then what you do is remind them that their technique should not change. In their mindset, it is yes, I have to stroke it a little bit harder, but it has to be a PAT-type mindset or a shorter field goal  type mindset so they do not try to do something extraordinary – turn their hips, push the ball or overstride so they jam themselves. That is the stuff that we can teach and that I can teach as a coach. These guys, they know that we are not going to put them in a position to fail. If we put them out there on a 53-yarder, then we believe they are going to make it. If it is an end-of-game situation into the Dawg Pound in rough weather, they have to go out and do it, and maybe they do something a little bit more oomph to drive that ball into the wind. Those are the things that we work on, we talk about and we study constantly.”


On if WR Anthony Schwartz is a potential option for the Browns in the return game:

“Probably. Because he has not done it, we tried with punts a little bit early before he hurt his hamstring. He struggled a little bit because it is really new. It is a lot harder. Punts are harder to catch then kickoffs. I would love for him to develop into a kickoff returner. He has explosive speed, as you guys know. He has a lot of confidence in his speed. I was joking with him that we could actually have someone catch it and then we could hand it to him and let him take off with the ball (laughter). I would like to teach him to get to the point where he is comfortable catching kickoffs out there. I would also like to use him as a gunner. I would also like to use him as an L1 or R1 on kickoffs. He has the mindset, he has the size and he certainly has the speed. He just has not done it so it is going to be new to him. Obviously, being out part of this spring has hurt him a little bit, but at the end of the day, we are going to get him ready because we know he is going to be there on gameday ready to roll.”


On what he liked about Felton prior to the draft:

“They had me interview him probably a month or so before the draft. I really like Demetric’s attitude. I liked his intelligence. He has a great personality. He loves the game of football. Everything you are looking for in a young player. He has great quickness. I do not think he has tremendous speed, but he has good speed. What he needs to use are his strengths – use his quickness, use his ability to be a playmaker and use his ability to be very versatile. I truly believe he has an opportunity to be a dual returner, and I truly believe he can help us as a gunner and on kickoff coverage because he has the right mindset, he likes the game, he is tough, he is available and he is accountable. I know the offense threw a lot at him this spring, and he has responded very well. We have done a lot of drill work with him. We are training him to be a dual returner. I am excited about his future. I really like Demetric.”


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