STC Mike Priefer (10.15.20)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

On Colts CB Isaiah Rodgers’ success on returns and the biggest issue for the Browns special teams unit last week, particularly the kick-return TD:

“We did not do a very good job of getting off blocks be quite honest with you. Right at the point of attack, we have guys, they are grabbing and holding, but they will never call a hold unless we are trying to get off a block so we did not do a good enough job there – not even close. We missed two tackles there. We missed several tackles against him. He is a very good young returner. They outplayed us on that one play especially, which is disappointing because I thought we did a really nice job in some other phases. We had two huge punts in the fourth quarter. We made all of our kicks. We put pressure on them in our field goal block. To be quite honest, that is the best to play remember in a special teams game. Anytime you give up a score, it is unacceptable, especially here in Cleveland.”


On if the Browns will be make personnel changes on special teams this week:

“Absolutely. We are going to find the right match of guys. We have talked about it before, we were the No. 1 or No. 2 kickoff team in the National Football League last year, and we do not all of a sudden get bad overnight. There are some things we are doing or personnel we are putting out there that are not good enough, and we are going to make those changes.”


On Steelers WR Ray-Ray McCloud looks on returns:

“Ray-Ray is doing a nice job. Coming out of Clemson a few years ago, I thought he was a good returner, but I think he is really starting to hit his stride. It is his third year in the league. He is confident. He is playing strong. He is not a really big guy, but he can break tackles. A very dangerous returner because anytime that you have a confident returner, he may not be (Bears WR) Cordarrelle Patterson, but he is a very, very talented and a very confident, aggressive returner right now. We have to do a better job than we have been doing this year. We have to kick them high and kick them far and we have to cover better.”


On the potential personnel changes available to the Browns on special teams, given who is getting reps on offense and defense and current injuries:

“Anytime you look at the injuries and anytime you look at who is going to start an offense or defense, we have to make adjustments on special teams. To be quite honest, I will use (LB Sione) Takitaki for example. He is playing some defense, but he stepped up and played three phases the other day and did a nice job. Those are the type of guys we need. That is the type of attitude we need in our locker room. I think because you give up a big play like that, I have (LB) Mack Wilson asking to be on me on kickoff. I have other guys saying, ‘Hey, Prief, use me wherever you need me.’ Usually, that has been the case anyway and our Head Coach (Kevin Stefanski) has done a good job letting me use players where we need them, especially in certain big plays like punt and kickoff. We have got to do a better job schematically. We have to do a better job of kicking, getting off blocks, covering and tacking to be quite honest. We will be better.”


On P Jamie Gillan’s punt that pinned the Colts back at the 4-yard line prior to the safety:

“Jamie had been hot and cold this year in the first four games, and he really stepped up. He only had the two opportunities in the fourth quarter, but the one that you mentioned was obviously a fair catch that we forced at the 4-yard line. It was a great punt and a great job by (CB) Tavierre (Thomas) being there to force a fair catch. The next play, we got to safety and that made it a nine-point game. Obviously, a really big play. Then he had another one after the kickoff return for a safety, we had a punt from around the plus-50, and we returned it to about the 40, which is a good solid return there and we punted it down to the 13-yard line. I think they had a 6 or 7-yard return, and we tacked them at 13 and that is bad field position, especially when you are up by nine in the fourth quarter. Those two plays to me and the great job Jamie is doing as a holder really helped us win that game the other night.”


On LB Mack Wilson and other Browns players asking to play more on special teams:

“Usually, it is when you are playing really well and they want to be part of something special. Guys understand the importance of that. They understand the importance of special teams and field position. Our kickoff team is our momentum team. We just had a pick-six and the crowd is into it and you are up by 17 points. That is the momentum team. That is what is so disappointing is we let them back in the game. That could have been a completely different outcome. Obviously, we won the game, we won by nine and we did a lot of good things on teams, but you can’t give up that play. It to hurt the momentum. I think there are a lot of guys on the sideline there that would have [asked to contribute on special teams]. (S) Andrew Sendejo is another guy that comes to mind that those guys are going to jump up and step up when we need them. Like (DE) Porter Gustin, who was playing a bunch of D line, he stepped up and played a little bit extra for us when we had an injury. Our locker is pretty awesome that way, and I have the support of our coaches and our players. We just have to get it cleaned up.”


On if Wilson can be more involved on special teams, given Wilson is returning from a knee injury:

“He is going to be more involved, absolutely. I am not going to tell you where, but he will definitely be more involved.”


On the impact offensive line coach Bill Callahan has had on Stefanski and the entire Browns coaching staff:

“Bill not only is he an outstanding offensive line coach, he is a good man and he is a good person. He cares about coaches. He cares about players. He cares about the success of this organization. I can’t say enough good things about Bill. I am glad he is here. He has done a really nice job for us. He has kind of been a sounding board for me because I like to tease him because he is here and I am not the oldest guy on the staff. Bill and (run game coordinator/running backs coach) Stump (Mitchell) are ahead of me. Having the guys like Stump and Bill around, their wisdom and their experiences has been invaluable for our staff, and I know for Kevin, as well.”


On evaluating WR Donovan Peoples-Jones’ early performance as a returner and areas Peoples-Jones can improve like explosiveness and making guys miss:

“Oh, absolutely. I think anytime you get a young returner… He is a confident young man, but he is a cerebral young man. He needs to see it. He needs to experience it. He has never been a kickoff returner before. He did a nice job on the last one. He broke a tackle and got out to the 32-yard line before our last field go drive to go back up by nine. That was a huge play. The one punt return opportunity we had the other night, he let the ball hit the ground and he did not feel comfortable – the ball was spinning weird or whatever. I would like to see him at least fair catch that, but we had a lot of room on that one. We end up getting 5 yards off the bounce. It could have been a 15-20 yard return. The more he experiences it, I think the better he will get.”


On if Peoples-Jones is still finding his way in the league and if he will be faster with more experience:

“I think so. He does need to play faster. He needs to return faster, like he did on that last kickoff return. I tell him he has to cut it loose – believe in his talent, believe in his ability and cut it loose. He understands that when the balls in his hands, he is the most important man in our organization because ball security is so huge for everybody. He understands that aspect of it. I am confident in Donovan. I think he is only going to get better.”

On why it is so tough to play at Heinz Field, in addition to the Steelers’ talent:

“They have that one open end that the winds come in there off the rivers and make it difficult to kick. Pregame will be big for us. Our stadium is no slouch now. Our stadium is pretty tough. We had some weird winds the other night again, and pregame was big for us then, too. We understand our stadium. We understand when the flags are blowing a certain way what the winds are doing. Still, every pregame is huge. No matter where you are and no matter what stadium you go to, you have to get used to the winds and you have to have a plan. Our kicker, punter, snapper and returners talk about those type of things prior to the game and during the game to adjust when you have to adjust to what the winds do.”


On if players can get ‘spooked’ by a place when they have not had success at the stadium:

“I think every day is a new day. Every weather day is a different day. It could be raining. It could be windy. It could be snowing later in the year. I do not know if ‘spooked’ is the right word. I think if you are a confident kicker, you are a confident player or you are a confident returner, it does not matter where you play. You just have to adjust to the venue that you are playing.”

On how the organization has responded to the DE Myles Garrett incident last year and the sentiment around the building as the team prepares for Garrett’s first game against the Steelers since the suspension:

“That is old news to be honest with you. I am just real proud of Myles and how he has responded to it. It is tough on him because he is a prideful guys, and he was criticized by a lot of people. He has done a nice job coming through that, and I am proud of our team and a locker room. No one is even talking about. I think (Steelers Head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin said it best: he is not going to make it a reality TV-type comments. That was a great comment because this is a new team, a new game, a new season and a new staff. I am real proud of Myles and the way he is playing this year, and I think that is what we need to focus on is the positives and what a great job he is doing for us.”

On if there is a Browns-Steelers moment from growing up that he remembers most:

“I do know that when (former Browns QB) Bernie (Kosar) was our quarterback, we won a lot of those games in the ‘80s. I know the ‘70’s they beat us pretty good. Unfortunately, one of the ones I remember as a kid was when (former Browns DE Joe) ‘Turkey’ Jones picked up and threw (pro Football Hall of Fame QB Terry) Bradshaw down. I know that was kind of a cheap play, but for some reason, that sticks in my mind. I did not like Pittsburgh, but that was a pretty nasty play. He was a good football player, Turkey, and I know Bradshaw is a Hall of Famer. I just like the ‘80s better than the ‘70s because I think we won more of those games. You can fact check that for me. I am not really sure what the record was, but I think we won more than we lost against Pittsburgh when Bernie was our quarterback.”

On if there is a balance to understanding this game is a rivalry game but keeping the approach of one week at a time:

“I think that is the best way to handle it because our team knows this is a very, very good football team. They are a physical, tough football team. They take on the mindset of their coach. I think Coach Tomlin has done a great job there over the years in Pittsburgh. I have a lot of respect for him and his staff. This is the next game. It is a divisional game, it is a conference game and it is a huge game for our football team, but it is the next game and that is what we are focused on and how to beat this team. Every week, it changes how you are going to beat a certain opponent. That is what we have been focused on this week.”

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