STC Mike Priefer (10.8.20)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

On CB Tavierre Thomas’ performance against Dallas:

“He was all over the field. He was tough to block. He did everything we asked him to do. He actually had five solos and to assists so out of the eight tackles that we had in that game, he was involved in seven of them. Obviously, he did a great job for us, along with playing 39 plays on defense. We played 21 core special teams plays, besides field goal block, and he had 39 defensive plays so it was an amazing effort by him. He really did a great job for us.”

 

On how WR Donovan Peoples-Jones played in his NFL debut and what happened on the kickoff that bounced into the end zone:

“The kickoff, we talked about it before hand that if they kicked the squib and it was too hard and it was going to go in the end zone, we would rather have a touchback in that situation because we were in our hands team so we were not going to get much blocking obviously. We had 10 guys in that setup zone. I thought he handled the situation correctly. He did not touch the ball. I would like him to follow the ball a little bit closer down towards the end zone to make sure it goes in the end zone because obviously, if the ball is untouched – he knows the rules, obviously – in the end zone, it is an automatic touchback. It worked out for us. I would just like him to follow the ball a little bit longer.”

 

On the touchback rule on kickoffs recently changing:

“Yeah, it used to be a live ball until they either downed it in the end zone or returned it and they were tackled. The only time it was an automatic touchback was if it went out in the end zone. Yeah, it changed. I think this is the third year of the rule.”

 

On if Peoples-Jones will continue as the returner or if WR Ryan Switzer could be used:

“We worked with Ryan extra yesterday before practice. We are going to continue to work with Ryan. He obviously has that pedigree, he has done it before and he has a lot of experience. For right now, Donovan is going to be the guy today on punt return and kickoff return. We always have (RB) Dontrell (Hilliard) and we have (RB) D’Ernest (Johnson), who is now taking on more of an offensive role. We have several guys who can do it and help us when we need them to.”

 

On the Colts special teams unit:

“They are good. They are playing hard. They are probably the fastest team that we have played thus far. Baltimore is big, strong and fast and some of the other teams we played are very, very good, but these guys really can run. If you look at their kickoff team across the board and their punt team across the board, they have a bunch of guys who can run. That is going to be our biggest challenge is slowing these guys down a little bit to try to get some seams and create some seams in our return game. Their young kicker has done a nice job, the rookie from Georgia (Colt K Rodrigo) Blankenship. (Colts P Rigoberto) Sanchez is netting over 43 yards a punt, and they have three returners – they have (Colts CB Isaiah) Rodgers, the rookie from UMass has done a nice job for and him he is a threat; they have (Colts WR Ashton) Dulin, a big strong receiver that is a threat No. 16; and then of course No. 21 (Colts RB Nyheim) Hines is an outstanding punt returner. They have had a lot of success, and I think they are very, very good at what they do.”

 

On if the Colts special teams unit recorded a block last week:

“They partially blocked a punt on the inside twist and man protection against Chicago. Nobody blocked what we call the No. 3. The guard should have blocked him I thought. I do not know which Chicago does scheme wise, but our guard would have blocked him. We would have that blocked up, I would hope. That was a big play for those guys. They play hard. You never know when they are going to show up. They are very well-coached. (Colts special teams coordinator) Coach (Bubba) Ventrone has done a nice job. He is a fine young coach who has paid his dues playing in the league and also as an assistant special teams coach. I have a lot of respect for him and what he has done there.”

 

On how RB D’Ernest Johnson stepped up when RB Nick Chubb sustained an injury at Dallas:

“I thought he did a great job. I was really proud of him. We talk to our special teams guys all the time that, and we have a lot of veterans in our meetings and I appreciate the veteran leadership that we have that they might be starters on offense and defense but they play one phase or maybe two, if it is field goal block or whatever, but it is kind of cool when a core special teams guys who has meant so much to our special teams units the past two years steps up and does a great job on offense or defense. I am really proud of D’Ernest and what he did the other day.”

 

On Johnson’s growth over the past year:

“I think so. I really mean this that the more reps you take on special teams, that is NFL football, NFL speed and big strong guys running around, and the more you do that, the more it helps you prepare to play on offense or defense to get that experience. I think it is hard to show up as a young player, not have any football experience at this level and be successful on offense or defense. I think that is where special teams for these young players until they develop and grow into that type of role on offense or defense really helps them to play at a high level on special teams, and D’Ernest did that for us.”

 

On Johnson showing up ready to play during training camp and not necessarily being surprised by his strong performance at Dallas, despite limited reps at RB and the modifications to the schedule prior to the season:

“Yes, and that is a great point. He showed up ready. For D’Ernest, it is little things that he does well. He is not the biggest, he is not the strongest and he is not the fastest, but he has enough of each one of those qualities that make him a quality teamer and a quality running back. Like I said, I am real proud of the way he showed up. He does the little things well. He studies the game. He watches extra tape. He makes sure that he does everything in individual on offense and whatever (run game coordinator/running backs) Coach (Stump) Mitchell is telling him to do and help him grow his running back. He does whatever I ask him to do helping him improve on special teams. For a guy like that, as a former college free agent to have that kind of success he had on Sunday and hopefully beyond, is a tribute to him, his hard work and what he has done.”

On WR KhaDarel Hodge sustaining a hamstring injury during pregame, which led to WR Donovan Peoples-Jones having an increased role on offense during his NFL debut:

“Because he was not in the coverage phases, Donovan, we knew he was not going to be gassed for the return phases. He handled it like a pro. I thought he did a nice job for us. He gave the ball back to the offense every time. He handled different situations well. Any time a guy goes down, especially the caliber of player that KhaDarel is, right before the game is hard, but the way we approach on special teams is it was like he got hurt on the first play or the very first kickoff, kickoff return or first offensive play and you just have to go on. You always have a plan. That is next man up. Guys responded and did well. We still need to cover punts better. Without him out there, it hurts a little bit, but we have our work cut out for us. Guys stepped up and did a good job.”

On Head Coach Kevin Stefanski’s performance as head coach and offensive play caller:

“He has a great demeanor to do that as a head coach and as offensive [play caller]. He does not get too high or too low and very even keel, which really helps him do both jobs well. The thing from my point of view, I have rarely worked for a head coach that has given me this much time. We have good meeting time. We have walkthrough, jog-through and practice time. We go over all the situations. You go back to the Dallas game in the fourth quarter and the different kickoff returns that we had to put out there, we had a kickoff return unit where we moved guys up and we got the ball out to the 25; we have the hands team where we got the ball as a touchback; and the biggest play of the game, at least the biggest play of the fourth quarter to me, was getting the ball at the 50-yard line when (RB) Dontrell (Hilliard) did a great job, we showed the hands and we are moving guys around to confuse their kicker a little bit, he punches one to us and we got the ball at the 50.The reason we were successful at that stuff is because our guys were paying attention. They are understanding the importance of special. It is emphasized from the top down to the players. What has really helped us is the time, the effort and the emphasis that the head coach puts on special teams that allows me to do my job at a higher level.”`

On Thomas’ success in special teams coverage:

“He is fast. He is aggressive. He is smart. He learns from not only watching tape but he learns how they are trying to block him during the game. We will talk about stuff on the sideline. We will move him around, which we will need to do to keep him out of double team situations because obviously they are going to double him. He has an extreme amount of confidence in his ability without being arrogant or cocky because he knows that they can knock him out of the game or with a double team they can keep him away from the returner at any play. He is always active with his hands and his feet, and he is strong enough and fast enough to be successful no matter what he does.”

On Ventrone has shared any stories from playing with the Browns:

“No, but I do like talking to him. When we scrimmaged at Indy last year before the preseason game, I got a chance to spend more time with him than I usually do at a combine or whatever. Actually, I am old enough that I coached against him so I remember when he was a player. He is a fine young coach, and he brings that energy and he brings that knowledge to the game because he was a great special teams player, and that was his primary role in New England and other teams that he played for. He has done a nice job. They have good players, and those guys are playing hard for them. You can tell by the effort that they play how they respond to his coaching. We have to match that intensity and surpass it. We have to take advantage of any opportunities that we have in the return game. We have to get after these guys.”

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