Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer (8.26.21)

Opening statement:

“Obviously, it has been a good camp this far. We have had some injuries we had to deal with, but that is everywhere in the NFL. Excited about this weekend – final preseason game and final test for a lot of our young guys. Looking forward to getting prepared for Kansas City hear in a couple of weeks.”


On potential special teams stalwarts this year:

“(CB) M.J. Stewart did a great job for us last year when we got him. He was never really a special teams demon, and he has really bought in and done a great job. He has been a little banged up lately, as you guys know, but he will be a guy that rely heavily on with his leadership and his skillset. He is a very intelligent player. (LB) Elijah Lee is a guy who we hope is running down covering kicks and being on both return phases. There are several other guys. (LB) Jeremiah (Owusu-Koramoah) has done a great job as a young guy when he has been out there. Hopefully, we can use him with his speed and athleticism. There are a lot of veterans. (LB) Anthony Walker Jr. has come in here and been a great leader for our football team and our locker room. He will play at least one phase, maybe two. There are a lot of veterans and a lot of rookies who we are going to rely on throughout the whole season.”


On CB Brian Allen:

“Brian Allen has done a great job. He has been a very pleasant surprise. Of course, I remember we got him on the practice squad last year, and I was like, ‘That guy is a corner?’ He is taller than some of our linebackers and he can run and he can hit. He has had a really nice camp.”


On if the Browns ‘have their kicker’:

“(K) Chase (McLaughlin) has done a great job this camp. It was a really good competition. I was very sad to see (K) Cody (Parkey) get hurt. He got hurt in pregame was when he did it. I did not find out until the second quarter because he tried to fight through it, and then he told me he was down and he was out. He did not want to make it worse, which I totally understood. The MRI confirmed that he was going to be out for several weeks so we could not have two kickers. The competition has been fantastic. I wanted to continue it in the second half of the Giants game and then this weekend, and this week would have been a big week for both of those guys. Honestly, Cody did a really nice job for us last year. He came back eight pounds heavier. He came back stronger. He was going to be better on kickoffs. Chase was really giving him a run for his money. I like Chase. I am confident in Chase. I do not make those final decisions, but this is a big week for him. We kicked yesterday. He did a great job. We will kick tomorrow and then we will kick Sunday.”


On how Parkey sustained his injury:

“With kickers you never know. It could be a groin. It could be a hip flexor. It could be a quad. Unfortunately, it was a quad for him. He is a veteran enough guy to know his body and that something did not feel right.”


On Head Coach Kevin Stefanski saying he would not kick a field goal inside PAT range unless it is to win a game:

“Yeah, that was probably for preseason. With the kicking competition, you are trying to get those guys in the 38-48-52 range trying to have those guys compete. I think that is what he meant about that.”


On how important accuracy in the 50-plus range is when deciding the starting K:

“We did not kick any 50-plus field goals last year. Those field goals, especially in our stadium over the last few months of the year, are very, very difficult. What do you want to do? Fourth-and-2, do you want to put (QB) Baker (Mayfield) and the offense out there or do you want to try your hand at a 54-yard field goal into the Dawg Pound end?”


On Ravens K Justin Tucker making a 50-plus yard FG in the Dawg Pound last year:

“That is true. Are you talking about last year with Baltimore? He is the best in the business. He would be our kicker if he was here. He is a good player.”


On if a team needs a K who is reliable enough to make a game-winning 50-yard FG:

“Of course, yeah. Chase lined up and drilled a 49-yarder, and if he misses that, they go down and kick a field goal and they win that game. I know it is preseason, but still, that was a regular season kick for him. He drilled it. It probably would have been good from 55-56.”


On the return competition:

“It has been fun because there are so many of them. (WR) JoJo (Natson) has done a nice job. (RB) Demetric Felton has done a nice job. We have trained him to be a punt returner, which he did not do in college. We know what (WR) Donovan (Peoples-Jones) can give us. We know what (RB) D’Ernest can give us. They both are quality return men who can give us what we need on game day. The No. 1 thing we did, and I have said this before, is ball possession last year. We always gave the ball back to the offense, and that is what we have to do this year. That is the most important thing we do, and the rest of it is a bonus to be honest with you. Is there any clear-cut returner right now? I do not think so. (WR) Anthony Schwartz is a special athlete who I would love to be our kickoff returner. We just have not been able to use him a lot lately.”


On if Felton can be a kickoff and punt returner at this point:

“We have not had many opportunities on kickoff return, but on punt return, he has shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic, and he has shown the ability to make the first guy miss and second guy miss. He can break tackles. He has done a real nice job for us. JoJo gives you probably a little bit more quickness and a little bit more speed, but Demetric has done a nice job of breaking tackles, making that first guy miss and retaining the football, which is obviously the No. 1 thing we do. If you put it on the ground, you can’t be our returner.”


On Johnson’s value on special teams:

“Huge. He can cover kicks. You can move him anywhere on kickoff. He can be a tackle or a wing on punt. He can run the punt team if we needed him to. He can be a dual-returner if we needed him to. If he is not the returner, he would be out in the return phase anyway at one of the positions we use. I am a big D’Ernest Johnson fan.”


On WR KhaDarel Hodge:

“He is a stalwart. He is a guy who we missed last year when he was banged up. We lost him right before kickoff against Dallas in pregame and we lost that roster spot. He was starting on three phases for us that day so that was a fun pregame for me (laughter). At the end of the day, he is a guy who we are really going to rely on to play gunner, to play kickoff and to be a punt return and kickoff return contributor, not a returner but mainly as a blocker.”


On if he is fighting for some special teamers to make the 53-man roster:

“We always talk about ‘jumping on the table.’ I think besides the head coach and the general manger, I understand the roster better than anybody because I get it. I get that you have to keep so many offensive linemen, defensive linemen and guys who are not playing a ton of special teams and then you have to have the other guys fill in. The great thing about (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew Berry is that he listens. He listens to the coaches, he listens to the scouts and personnel people and then he makes the decision. Have I fought for guys? I think I have told him my opinion and he has asked me to compare this guy to this guy and linebacker A to linebacker B and safety A to safety B. I have given him my opinion based off of special teams, but I understand at the end of the day that we have to win with the roster that we are given. We have a lot of good football players on this team that I am excited about.”


On being a part of a Browns team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations:

“I have told you guys before, I am not into predictions. We have to go down and play the two-time defending AFC Champions Week 1 that have won the Super Bowl. They are a great football team. Right now, our focus is on the Kansas City Chiefs. Am I excited to be a Browns coach? I was excited two and a half years ago when I got here. I love this city. I love this franchise. I am really excited about where we are at and where we are headed.”


On if the Browns want to avoid making a change at K early in the season, given the team did it last year after Week 1:

“The thing about what we had last year is (former Browns K) Austin (Seibert) did not have a great training camp and then we were hoping he would turn it around. He had a poor first game, and we had to make a change. It was forced upon us. It was not just one bad game. It was a culmination of not playing great in training camp. I think Chase has had an outstanding training camp. If he is our guy, then you do not want to swap guys out after one week if you can avoid it.”


On training another new K in McLaughlin to kick at FirstEnergy Stadium:

“That is the tough part. The good things is we had all of our specialists go down four times this summer so far to get used to that stadium. One day, it was ridiculous wind that they had back in early August. That would be the toughest part, unless they have kicked there before, to get them used to that unique venue because it really is very unique.”


On how P Jamie Gillan has refined his game since last year:

“He is really starting to understand the game. Like I said, two and a half years ago, he did not know what PAT stood for and now we are looking at a guy that can be one of the top punters in the league if he stays healthy and does what he is supposed to do. We have asked Jamie to be more of a directional punter this year to pin people toward the sideline to give our gunners a better opportunity, especially against the vice to win. He has done that in camp. He has had a good preseason. I look forward to seeing him punt. It is going to be indoors so it is not as much of a challenge, but he still has to do a good job indoors. He did not punt well indoors… Where did we play last year indoors? I do not even remember. Two years ago, it was in Arizona, and he did not punt great. I just think it is one of those things that he has really matured. He has worked extremely hard. We bounce ideas off of each other all of the time about different type of kicks. His hook punt that you saw the other day, that is a nice weapon for us. He really needs to be a weapon for our football team because he has the ability to be that.”


On if Gillan was injured last year:

“I do not recall if he was hurt. He might have been sore, but I do not remember him being hurt. He did not miss any games.”


On how Stefanski has grown in his role entering Year 2:

“The thing about Kevin is he is very even-keeled as you guys have seen. No matter what has been thrown at him, whether it is the COVID protocols from last year or whether it has been an injury or different issues that we have had to deal with as an organization, he has dealt with them with a very cool, calm, collected head. I knew that about him my entire time in Minnesota. I think he has done a really nice job in that regard. He has done a nice job leading this team.”


On what makes a great gunner like Hodge:

“You have to be explosive enough at the line of scrimmage to beat the vise. You have to have breakaway speed. You have to be strong enough. They are going to grab and hold you because that is what most teams teach. We do not, but Baltimore does, Pittsburgh does and Cincinnati does – I am just kidding (laughter). You have to be able to find the returner. You have to be courageous enough to take a shot and go for the tackle. Plus-10 down in you have to be able to be smart enough and experienced enough to find the football, stay inbounds and down the ball inside the 5, 10-yard line, wherever the punt lands. There are a lot of different things, and that is why I have (assistant special teams) Coach (Doug) Colman work with the gunners exclusively. He meets with them twice a week. We do walkthroughs, jog-throughs and individual work with the gunners more than any other position aside from the team together. That is where KhaDarel has done a nice job for us when he has been healthy.”


On Hodge saying being a gunner comes down to ‘want to’:

“In order to be a special teams player, you have to have great want to. You have to be a unique individual. There is something wrong with you to coach it and there is something wrong with you when you play – in a good way you hope. All of the great special teams players that I have been around, they are unique athletes, but they have a unique attitude and want to towards the game of football.”


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