STC Mike Priefer (10.24.19)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement:
“Good morning, everybody. I hope you guys missed me as much as I have missed you last week. It was a rough bye week for me (laughter). I missed all these questions.”


On the Patriots special teams unit and it being mistake free:

“It is not only mistake free. They also make a lot of plays. They do not hurt themselves, but they also put you in position where, with their punt rush for example, they put you in position to be where you are very uncomfortable. They use personnel that puts a lot of stress on your put team and how we need to protect. Of course, we had the one blocked a couple of weeks ago that was unacceptable. That should never happen to us, not the way we should protect. That is going to be the big emphasis this week is punt protection and understanding that our punt return game, we have to get that going against a good fine young rookie punter who puts a lot of stress on your returner because he does not give you a lot of balls to return because he is such a good directional punter. Their field goal kicker, (Patriots K) Mike (Nugent) has been in the league a long time. He has had a phenomenal career. He has straightened himself out here the last couple of week. He is getting used to the snapping and holding. Their snapper (Patriots LS Joe Cardona), although he is a Naval Academy grad, we have to get after him this weekend. He is a good young snapper. He is a good kid. I am sure the only thing I will say to him is ‘Beat Army’ when I see him. That is the only about the only conversation I will have with him. They do not make mistakes, they do not get penalized, they play hard in every phase, they are well-coached and they understand situational football. We have our work cut out for us as normal.”


On if the Browns identified the issue with the blocked punt against the Seahawks:

“They do a nice job with that scheme. They ran similar schemes in the past. We worked on them all week to be honest with you, and we did not execute. They executed and we did not execute. Could I have done a better job? Yes. The way I look at it, I am looking in the mirror and say that I am responsible for that, but our guys have to do a better job of protecting in that situation. We literally ran not the exact same rush but something very similar to it that they have run in the past. They did a good job. It is one of those things that in our protection scheme some of the things that we used that is a rush that is good against us, but if we execute it and use our techniques and fundamentals like we have been taught, then we are going to block that up. We have blocked it up before against different teams, and that should never happen. The way I look at it, I will be honest with you, coming out of that game, obviously very disappointing that we lost. The Seattle game, a game that we could have won, we started the game and gave our offense field position at the 23. At the end of the game when we were down by five, we rushed the punt and he just yanks one off the side of his foot, give the offense the ball at the 24. We ended up getting a two-point conversion out of that. Our defense did a great job after the blocked punt. We only gave up three. Did we win the field possession battle overall? Yes, but you should never give up a blocked punt. We should never give up a blocked punt, and that can’t happen again. That has been our big emphasis the last two weeks. We have worked a lot on it the two practices we had a week ago and of course, yesterday, and we are working on it again tomorrow in punt.”


On what Patriots CB Justin Bethel and other veterans adds to the Patriots special teams:

“Obviously, we already played against him when he was in Baltimore. He will play the two on the kickoff, I would imagine. He would be a gunner on punt. He will come off the edge of field goal block. All things that we are going to prepare for that he is really good at. They could put him inside on kickoff, as well, like a four or five because of his speed. They do a good of accumulating those good players and those guys play hard. (Patriots S) Nate Ebner is another one that not many people mention because he has missed a couple of games with a foot energy, but he is back and he has played well the last two weeks. They have good specialists and good teamers. The good thing is it is a challenge and I love a challenge. I am really excited about going up to play the World Champions at their place and we are only going up there for one reason and that is to win the ball game. We have to do our part to help our football in both offensively and defensively and put our guys in position to execute and to be in good scoring position for our offense. Pin them deep whenever we can. They have a great offense, we know that and the greatest quarterback I have ever seen. We have to make sure that they go the long haul. We can’t give them any freebies. We can’t give them the ball at the 40-yard line because he turns it into a touchdown like that. We have to pin them deep at every opportunity, and that is going to be our goal.”


On RB Dontrell Hilliard’s long kickoff return against the Seahawks:

“He found a seam. That is one of the bigger seams you are ever going to be see. A well-blocked play. We took advantage of Seattle’s speed and pushed them by the play like we knew we could. If he does not stumble there, I think he scores because the backside safety ended up getting him. The kicker did a good job of slowing him down a little bit, but he kind of stumbled on himself on a piece of grass he said there. He did a great job of setting the return. It helped our blockers a lot. He hit that seam inside. It was perfectly blocked by our guys. It was a big play. It got the whole crowd involved to start it off and gave our team momentum right off the bat, which we have not had that yet this year. That is what we have to keep doing going forward.”


On emphasizing punt protection and building on the kickoff return success:

“Sure, absolutely. Like I tell our guys every week, we need to build on the things we do well. We need to correct the mistakes so that they do not happen again. When you are doing that, when you are correcting these mistakes and these guys understand what they are being asked to do, they should get better on even the things they are doing well. Everything is kind of built on doing the fundamentals and techniques and experience. We have a bunch of young guys. You mentioned the Patriots, they have a lot of veteran guys. Across the board, they have veterans guys playing on special  teams. We have  a lot of young guys. For me, that is exciting because it is so important to them and it is so important for them in their minds to get better to not only continue to earn that roster spot but to help our football team win on special teams.”


On if P Jamie Gillan has the right demeanor to quickly move past the blocked punt:

“I do because it was not his fault. He actually got it off in 1.95 [seconds], which is excellent get off. It was totally on the protection and the way that they executed it. He has a pretty short memory when it comes to that stuff. It is important to him, but he has the right demeanor across the board as a holder, as a punter and as a teammate. He has done a nice job in that regard.”


On if he has ever talked about their Navy connection and to Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick’s father, Steve:

“I mentioned it to him a long time ago and he probably does not remember. His father, Steve (Belichick) was at the Naval Academy when I was there as a Midshipman and then when I went back for my shore duty. I just kind of worked my way being a graduate assistant, and he was still there. He was a great mentor to me. His friendship meant a lot to me. He really understood the game. We used to talk complementary football. We used to just talk about little things, about players and how to motivate players. He was quite the motivator. I remember when I was a Midshipman and we would do the physical readiness test. Back then, it was pull-ups, sit-ups and I think a mile or a mile and a half run, which is the one that killed me. I remember doing pull-ups and he is counting them and I think that I am cranking them out. I look down, I do like four and he goes, ‘Oh, that is one.’ I am looking down and I am like, ‘Coach, I did four.’ He goes, ‘You did not go all the way down or all the way up’ or whatever it was. He is a tough, hard-nosed guy. He was a great military and Navy veteran, served in World War II. He was just a good man. His friendship meant a lot to me. “


On if there is something special to oppose a special teams unit with Belichick, who could be the greatest NFL coach of all time:

“When you look at the tape and you know how well they are coached and how well their special teams coordinator coaches their guys and the emphasis that they put on it – I know that (Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens) have done a great with that is emphasizing special teams here, as  well and he has given me the opportunity and the time to get our guys prepared – it is a challenge because of how they do not make mistakes. It is a challenge because you have to go out there and take the fight to them. You have to go out and make plays against them. You can’t worry about something bad happening. You can’t worry about a penalty. You can’t worry about them rushing the punt. You know they are going to rush the punt. You know they are going to play hard. We are not going to get a lot of calls of penalties on them because they do not get penalized because they play with great technique and great fundamentals. That is going to be our challenge. Coach Belichick obviously is in charge of that whole thing, but his special teams coaches do a great job, the veteran special teams players do a great job and that is what that challenge is this week.”


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