STC Mike Priefer (1.14.21)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

On the emotional lift with Head Coach Kevin Stefanski returning today: 

“It is great. He deserves to be back. Anytime your leader comes back to the building and is going to lead us into battle this weekend, it is a great thing for our football team.”

On his favorite moment as a Browns fan growing up: 

“That is a tough question. We had three tough AFC Championship losses back in the ‘80s. Those were tough. I remember each one of them vividly. Probably making it that far. I can’t think of one right offhand, but I know those three seasons were a lot of fun because obviously, I was in college or in flight school for those three, and they were three great seasons for our organization and just came up one game short each year.”

On how he spent Sunday night and Monday morning following last week’s win: 

“Made some phone calls from the locker room after the game. I talked to my wife, my kids and my dad. My mom was asleep, but we woke her up and talked to her real quick. Obviously, very excited for our whole family, for our city and for all of our fans. I said it after the game, there was really no time to reflect on that game right now. When you wake up Monday and you grade the tape, I thought we played really well on special teams and we did some good things and a couple of things we left on the field like we always do, but always, you can always get better. Then you start watching Kansas City tape, and you come down to earth real quick. They are outstanding. They have three great returners. They have guys coming off of the practice squad who can return kicks. They have a great kicker, an outstanding rookie punter and a good snapper. They are extremely well-coached. (Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator) Dave (Toub) does a great job with that unit. You do not have time [to reflect] to be honest with you. This is obviously just as big or a bigger game for our football team because it is the next one. We have to get ready for Sunday.”

On Browns backups continuing to make key plays every week throughout the season: 

“Two things it tells me: No. 1, our personnel people are bringing in the right type of guy and they are talented enough, they are smart enough and they are tough enough. It tells me a lot about our staff and our coaches. Scott Peters, our assistant O line coach, did a phenomenal job. I was talking to (offensive line coach) Bill Callahan about Scott yesterday about what a great job he did with those young offensive linemen, spending extra time with them, meeting with them over Zoom and making sure that when we were practicing that they were getting the work in and across the board. (Assistant defensive backs coach) Brandon Lynch did a great job with the secondary. (Coaching assistant) Ryan Cordell did a great job with the O line without the other two O line coaches and across the board. (Offensive coordinator) Alex (Van Pelt) did a great job of calling plays. (Defensive coordinator) Joe (Woods) did a great of job calling the defense Sunday. It was a great team effort. That is kind of a cool thing about our staff, our players and our personnel people, everybody meshing and working together to have a successful cohesive unit. That is what we are always looking for.”

On how gratifying it is as a coach to see depth on the roster and players stepping up and playing at a high level, including G Michael Dunn last week: 

“He did a great job, and (G) Blake Hance did a great job, and (T) Kendall Lamm stepped up. We had guys stepping up playing a bunch on offense, defense and on special teams and played well. (RB) D’Ernest Johnson played outstanding on Sunday night. (CB) M.J. Stewart (Jr.) made some nice plays. We had (S) Andrew Sendejo end up playing on three phases for us with all of the defense he was playing because of an injury we had. The guys stepped up across board. (Assistant special teams coach) Doug Colman, my assistant, did a great job of taking over some of my duties on gameday and getting those corrections made so we can continue to improve. The coolest thing – I told our guys this in the meeting yesterday when we went over kickoff – in the game Sunday night for me was when we were kicking off for the fifth time in the first quarter, which has obviously never happened to me before, these guys wanted it more and more and more. It is one of the things that they never took the playoff. Not that they would anyway, but their attitude, their aggressiveness and the way they approached each one of those plays on Sunday night, it just felt like they were playing harder and harder as the game wore on instead of taking it for granted that we were up 28-0. That was a really cool thing for me to see.”

On how the team has returned to prepare for this week’s game following an emotional week last week: 

“I thought it was kind of cool that we were on the practice field on a Wednesday for the first time (laughter). That was a relief. We were in pads and we were out there practicing. I think half of practice was full speed and the other half was more of a jog-through so we can save their legs and understanding that we are in mid-January and have been playing a lot of football these past several months. The guys came with a great attitude. It was very workman-like. There was not a whole lot of talk about Sunday night. It was talking about the Kansas City Chiefs and the task that we have set before us because they are a very, very good football team.”

On if it is challenging to get players to refocus after an emotional win like Sunday night: 

“You would think because I have been part of that before where it is hard after a big win or an emotional win to get them refocused, but not this group. This group has been incredible all year when it comes to that type of stuff.”

On Chiefs WR Byron Pringle as a kickoff returner: 

“He is their backup kickoff returner, and he is outstanding. (Chiefs WR) Mecole Hardman is their No. 1 guy. Mecole Hardman is a 4.28 guy who is about 190 pounds but incredible quickness. Byron Pringle is a big, strong guy who is also very fast and can run through arm tackles. They are both very, very good. You probably can tell from the circles under my eyes, I have not been sleeping much last couple of nights because I do wake up in the middle of the night going, ‘Oh, boy. We have to figure out a way to get these guys stopped.’ It will be hard to kick touchbacks all the time. That is the easy answer, right? Kick touchbacks. That is not always the case in Kansas City in mid-January with the wind, the cold and that type of thing. We have to go out and we have to execute like we did on this past Sunday night against another very good special teams unit, and I thought we played well against them.”

On ‘being the man in charge’ with a 28-0 lead in the first quarter: 

“Really to be honest with you was, it was just one play at a time – our whole theme for the day. I will be honest with you, we scored on that first scrimmage play after we covered that first kickoff. I turned around and I just told the field goal team to get out there and we are going for one. Then you go onto the kickoff, you go onto the next play and we had an interception, and we take it down and we score again. I knew that they were going to give us their best shot, especially in the third quarter, and they did. They made it very competitive obviously. We knew that a (Steelers Head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin team was not going to back down. They were not going throw in the towel. They are too good of a football team. They are too well-coached. We knew they were going to give us our best their best shot, and they did. Our guys responded well and responded to the adversity in the third quarter. The score that made it 42-23 was huge. That was a great drive by our offense. That was crucial because we had gone three-and-out couple of times in a row and they had gone down and scored a couple of touchdowns. We answered back. (QB) Baker (Mayfield) and the whole offensive did such a great job. It was a great answer to what they were throwing at us in the third quarter.”

On if the Browns’ coaching changes last week change the workflow moving forward or if the coaching staff learned anything from the way they had to interact during that game: 

“I know if I am in that position again, I will do a better job. We did some good things, and I am pretty tough on myself so going back, I am looking back at that game and I will learn from it and I am sure I will watch the TV copy at some point and say, ‘OK, what could I have done better? What could I have done more effectively to help our football team?’ If that ever happens again, I will do a better job for our team.”

On saying the Browns played harder after establishing an early lead and if he has seen that from a team before: 

“I guess that is one of your fears as a coach that when you get up 28-0 that guys kind of relax a little bit, and I did not see that from our guys. You would think that in the third quarter when they started coming back, but again, that is a very good football team and they were going to throw everything they had at us. We took their best shot, we responded and ended up winning by 11, and they scored late. That is obviously one of your focuses is, ‘OK guys, this game is not over.’ Our big theme in the locker room, even though it was what 35-10 at half, was this one is far from over and the guys. They knew exactly what I was going to say, and I am sure the other coaches were saying that too before we even said it, that this game is far from over, we have 30 minutes left and we have to go out there and play. I know it is coach-speak that it is 0-0 when it is not, but the guys responded well. Offense, defense and special teams, everybody was great.”

On if his mom was mad that he woke her up after last week’s game: 

“I pass that one off on my dad. He woke her up so she could congratulate me. I got to talk to him and to my wife and all of my kids – all of my kids were in the stands after the game. I told you guys that after the game, that was very emotional and it meant a lot to me. It is something that we will never forget as a family and the opportunity that the Browns organization and Kevin, (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and the Haslam family gave me to be in charge for that three-hour period was something I will never forget.”

On what he told the team in his pre-game speech last week: 

“I basically told them what the theme was the whole week. We had to win the turnover battle. We had to because we had not practiced much that week to rely on our fundamentals and techniques. We did not have to do anything extraordinary. They are a good football team and we had to go out play well, but we did not have to be a miracle worker. We just had to go play our play and be the Cleveland Browns, and then we have to stick together as a team through any adversity that we had. I basically told them play this game like you wish you would have played it when you wake up Monday morning, and what I meant by that was leave it on the field, leave everything you have, no regrets, just go out and play your game and win as a team, and that is exactly what we did.”

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