STC Mike Priefer (10.10.19)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement:

“Obviously, coming off a very disappointing performance on Monday night and a quick turnaround so there is not a whole lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves, not that we would anyway. A lot of work to do. Had a really good day yesterday at work. Plan on having another good day of work today and tomorrow to prepare ourselves for Sunday afternoon because we are playing an outstanding football team. You guys know that, not only offensively and defensively but obviously special teams. They have a bunch of speed. They have good specialists, a good returner. Like normal, we have our work cut out for us. Look forward to the challenge. Our guys are fired up to get back out on the field. In some ways, it is a blessing to have a little bit shorter week because now we can get that bad taste out of our month and let’s go out and play ball on Sunday afternoon in front of our home crowd, our home fans and let’s get after these guys.”


On if WR Antonio Callaway is an option at punt return:

“We are working him in there. Yes, it was a first week back last week and he caught a few last week. He caught even more yesterday. He will be integrated into our punt return group as soon as he is ready.”


On if WR Jarvis Landry is still the primary punt returner:

“He is probably the primary guy. Obviously, we used (WR) Odell (Beckham Jr.) the other night to try and provide a spark for us. (RB) Dontrell Hilliard and (RB) D’Ernest Johnson, we have a bunch of different options back there. Depending on the time of game, who is fresh and who is ready to roll because they are all being trained to do it like they have been since the spring. We just have to make sure that we have the right guy out there at the right spot. Obviously, ball security is the No. 1 thing that we talk about all the time, and we did not do a good enough job on that Monday night. Odell was trying to make a play. God bless him, he wanted to go out there. We talked about it before hand and cleared it with (Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens). He went out there and tried to provide a spark for our team. Seven and a half minutes to go in the game, we get a big play there and you never know what happens in this game. You guys have been around the game long enough to know that. He just did not secure the ball like he should, and he knows that. Going forward, we will do a better job doing that.”


On if he is concerned that the Browns special teams have not been able to provide the desired spark in punt or kickoff returns:

“The Jets game, we had a really nice game of punt return, but you are right that since then, it has not been a whole lot. We have not had a lot of opportunities on punt return. We have had plenty of opportunities on kickoff return, and we have not gotten to that point yet. I talked about it last week and we talked about it again this week that talk is cheap. We have to go out and execute our assignments. We have to block better. We have to make good decisions at the return position. We have to go out and make a play. We have to give our offense great field position or even score because that is what I am used to and the guys I have been around are used to. We have a good group of guys. It is a work in progress, I am not making any excuses. We absolutely need to provide a spark for our team, and this week will be the prime week to do it, I know that, against a good football team.”


On if it is a difficult situation to let Beckham return the punt in the fourth quarter given the score differential:

“With seven and a half minutes to go, you never know. If we block the left gunner, the gunner on our left side, we are going to have something. We have something. He is the one that made him bubble and then he started cutting it back from there. If we get him blocked like we blocked the right gunner, we have a chance for a good play. You get a good play in a situation like that, next thing you know there are six and half minutes to go in the game, and you are down 18. I know it is a lot. I get it. I am little bit more of a optimist than most people, but I am also realistic to understand. I think it is worth it because you are trying to provide a spark not only for your team in that game but going forward and getting them to believe in what we are trying to do as a return unit against Seattle, against New England, against Denver, etc on down the line. We have to build a foundation. You do not just build a foundation by just going out there and quitting with seven and a half minutes to go in the game. That is not who I am. That is not who our guys are. We are going to out there and try to make a play every single opportunity that we have. I do not care how much time is left on the clock and if we are down or if we are up to be quite honest.”


On challenges in the first year of a new staff and team:

“I think the challenge is there because you have coaches coming from different staffs around the league or even college. You have players coming from different teams. I think Freddie is doing a phenomenal job of changing the culture. I have my master’s degree in management, and I took leadership culture classes and I have studied a lot of that stuff. Obviously, being a Naval Academy grad, I have studied leadership and leaders. You do not just walk in and change the culture overnight. It is a process. It is going to take some time. Whether we were 0-5, 2-3, 3-2 or 5-0, it still takes time to build that culture the way Freddie has envisioned it. Our staff has bought. Our team has bought in. We are going in the right direction. Although the record does not show it quite yet, I do feel good about where we are and I can see it change. It is kind of cool to watch it because I have had that experience of different staffs and being in the military and seeing the culture of a squadron change when a new commanding officer comes in. It is something that I am very familiar with. I can see the change coming. It just does not happen overnight. It really does not. It is a work in progress. It is a transformation that has to occur over time, but we are going in the right direction and I am really excited about that.”


On if Beckham requested to return the punt:

“We were talking about it before hand. Just the situation came up. They were punting from backed up and we had an opportunity fourth and long, we can double-bite both gunners not worried about the fake. We were down so we can be more aggressive that way. I cleared it with Freddie, and off we went.”


On clarifying when he talked with Beckham about a punt return:

“Earlier in the game. We had other return opportunities that we had made a stop on third down and we were going to possibly put him in at that time earlier in the game. It was one of those things that there was either going to be Jarvis or Odell and both of them ready to roll.”


On what it says about Beckham that he wants to be involved on punt return:

“I loved it. He does not care what the score is. He is a competitive young man. I have had discussions with him before. I had a discussion with him yesterday. He was trying to make a play. I love that about him. I just told him when you try to make a play you still have to secure the ball, and he totally understood that. He is a competitive guy. Just like Jarvis, just like Antonio, just like our other returners and just like 99.9 percent of our guys, maybe say 100 percent of our guys are competitive people by nature. We are going to try to go out there and make a play. We blocked a field goal. A big play there by (CB) Tavierre Thomas and returned it to midfield, and that provided a spark in the third quarter. You never know when that big play is going to occur, whether it is the first quarter, middle of the third quarter or at the end of the game. We always have to be prepared to perform to the best of our abilities in those spots.”


On if it increases chances to use Beckham on returns in games when he is not as getting as many receptions:

“I do not pay much attention to that part of it because I have a lot going on the sideline getting guys ready for punt, punt return or whatever. I do not know if he is getting the ball a lot, unless I look up and he is making another one-handed grab against New York. I think when you are in a situation where you can use an athlete like him, why wouldn’t you? To be honest with you. You can’t ever coach scored. ‘Oh my gosh, he might turn an ankle’ or whatever. I think you have to go out there and say, ‘Can he help us win the game in this spot?” Then you put them out there. If it is a spot where he is gassed or he is performing as well as he normally does on offense, then you may not be able to use him because it is a situation where he is not physically ready because he is gassed or he is tired. Same thing with Jarvis. Same type of thing. That is why we train so many guys to be our returner so the right, the most fresh guy can step up and perform at the highest level on that play at that point.”


On if he has every been in situations where a superstar offensive player did not want to play on special times:

“Not really. I have been around some superstar players on offense and defense that could not care less about special teams to be honest with you, but I have not found that here. That is why I love this group of guys.”


On if some star players in his past have refused to contribute to returns:

“You know before you go into the game. I am not going to put those guys out there in a game if they have not practiced. If Odell had not caught punts in practice last week, I would not have put him in that situation. It is not fair to him. It is not fair to our team. I have been around some big time players that thought they were too good for special teams. I do not have any time for those guys, and we do not have those guys on this team, which is good.”


On if the league is trending to kicking it shallow in the end zone while it previously leaned towards producing touchbacks:

“Depending on who you play. Depending on the time of game and the situation. If we are 14 in the fourth quarter and they have (Seahawks WR) Tyler Lockett back there, why would I give him the opportunity for a big play? Try and kick a touchback. If it is 7-7 in the middle of the second quarter and we are covering kicks like we normally cover kicks this year, we might challenge them and kick it to the 2-yard line and tell them to bring it out. Last week, we kicked it high and 2 yards deep and they let it go. Those are situations we will be more aggressive on the return end that has not come to fruition like we want it thus far, but that is going to change. That is our plan to have that change. We are going to be aggressive on kickoff and kickoff return in every phase because we want to make a difference and help our football team in any way that we can. Sometimes touchbacks are going to help us. Sometimes taking a touchback is going to help our football team. We have to be prepared to either bring it out from three or four deep to try to get a big play on one end, and on the kickoff end, we have to be prepared to go down and pin the opponent inside the 20 like we have done many times this year.”


On returning deep kickoffs and potentially getting pinned inside the 20-yard line:
“It is feast or famine. It is risk/reward. You can get tackled at the 18, the 19, the 20 two plays in a row and then you can pop one for 50. That is our mentality. We are going to pop one for 50 every two or three plays. We have not gotten there yet, but that is the mentality that we are trying to create with our football team that we are going to put pressure on teams that they are want to kick touchbacks because they are afraid of our return game. It is not there yet, but that is the plan.”


On if he is comfortable with players returning kickoffs two or three yards deep in the end zone:

“Yeah, they are given parameters. If they do not play within those parameters, we find someone else to make those decisions for us. So far Dontrell Hilliard has done a nice job. (WR) Taywan Taylor brought some out against Baltimore that we were asking him to bring out. We were trying to be aggressive. I do not think you can get any better on kickoff return if you just take a knee all the time.”


On penalties on special teams:

“Punt return, I think we have had one. Kickoff return, we have had three. I told our guys this morning, I said I have coached teams that we have gone through 16 game seasons plus the playoffs and had one kickoff return penalty for the whole year. We already have three so that needs to change. It needs to change quickly. Other than that, the other phases we are doing a good job.”


On how clean most Browns players are operating on special teams:

“There is a fine like. Absolutely, like we talked about with our guys, I do not want to over-coach not being aggressive because then we do not block anybody. You also do not want to make the dumb penalty. We had a penalty on KOR the other day that the illusion was he threw him down. The guy was starting to fall, but he followed him down with his hands. All he has to do is let him fall or push him and go on to the next guy. It was a young player and he needs to learn that. We have preached it and we have worked on it, but we must improve on that immediately because we can’t put our offense at the 17,18,15 yard line anymore. It is not helping our offense get going. We have to provide a spark for our offense that we have talked about for a long time here for the last several months.”


On how impressive was Thomas’ blocked FG:

“He was getting hooked. The wing starts to hook him so he just kept fighting through it and turned his body, and he blocked it. It was a great play by him. I really respect our defensive players on that unit. They do such a good job. Their last field was 28-10, and (DT) Sheldon Richardson is 2 yards, 3 yards in the backfield trying to block the kick. These guys, they do not care what the score us. I have been incredibly impressed the attitude and effort of our guys on field goal block and most of the phases for that matter. They do a really nice job of putting pressure on our opponent’s field goal team. We finally got one the other day, and we are going to get one inside, too. Tavierre did a great job off the edge. We are going to keep coming off the edge. We are going to be sound against fakes when it is fourth-and-short like we have been doing and trying to keep people off balance so we do not have a tendency that we show and we can take away those fakes. Those big guys inside have done a phenomenal job for us.”


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