STC Mike Priefer (11.21.19)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement:

“I know what you guys are thinking, it has been two weeks since we have done this and I hope you guys have missed me as much as I have missed you. We will kind of leave it at that. Two wins in a row. We are playing pretty well as a team. We have to keep focused. We have a team coming into town that has obviously won two of their last three. They are talented. They are feeling more and more confident. They had a phenomenal special teams game on Sunday four days ago against Buffalo. A surprise onside that they got, a 101-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown. They have some good players. They have some good specialists. They have some guys that are playing hard. They are a young team on special teams like we are. They play with high energy and effort, and they are playing with a lot of confident right now. We are going to have to get after it, play our game and help our football team.”


On how much the Browns will emphasizes the Dolphins’ surprise onside kick last week:

“We actually emphasize that every week no matter who we are playing. Against a team like Miami that is 2-8 – I am not going to say that they do not have anything to lose because it is the National Football League and everybody has something to lose. They are a prideful team. They have a good coaching staff. Their special teams coordinator (Darren Rizzi) is a very good coach. You have to be ready for that every week, but obviously, this week there is more of an emphasis because they have tried three and they have gotten all three – two of them when they were offside. Finally, the one that they got the other day, they were not offside on that one. They have faked a punt successfully, they have faked a field goal successfully and they had a kickoff returned for a touchdown. They signed my old punt returner (Dolphins CB) Marcus Sherels. It is really weird seeing him in a Miami Dolphin uniform wearing the No. 48 instead of No. 35 in a purple [Vikings] uniform. I know what he can do, and he still has it. Great quickness. He will make great decisions back there. Specialists wise and what have bringing to the game on Sunday, they are pretty dangerous. As normal, we have our work cut out for us.”


On WR KhaDarel Hodge’s season:

“It is funny, like a lot of young players, he started out really good on special teams and he got more and more involved in the offense because he is a good football player, a good receiver as well. Had he not been as productive so my challenge to him and to other guys like him is when you start playing more offense and defense, but we still need you because you are only playing 12-15 plays on offense so he can still be a four-phase player so those guys still have to show up in the special teams phases. He is a young guy, and he is looking around going, ‘Hey man, I have a chance to be a receiver in the NFL, too.’ I would not say that he has lost focus because I think he is a pretty focused young man. My challenge to him and to the guys like him that play more on offense and defense is to keep playing at a high level and help us win games. He will do that for us.”


On if the Dolphins special teams has used fakes and surprise kicks all year or only until their record dropped:

“I think when you are struggling as a team, you have to try and find different ways to win. They picked the right spots. I am sure their head coach is very much involved in when they do it, and he has a lot of confidence in their guys. Two of those surprise onside were executed perfectly by Miami that they recovered, but they moved early and they left early. That is kind of what you have is the guy who is recovering the kick and who is designed to recover the kick, he is the one leaving a little bit early because he wants to make sure that he gets there. That is where it kind of got him a couple of times.”


On Dolphins K Jason Sanders recovering the onside kick last Sunday:
“That is the slow roller, middle bunt we call it. They executed that one perfectly. It was a great kick. Kicker did a nice job of grabbing it and going down before he took a shot.”


On how the team can galvanize after last week:

“(Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens) has done a great job off having all of us understand, coaches and players, that we have to be 1-0 this week. We have to move on. We won a really hard fought game. We are excited about Miami coming into town for the next challenge, and I think we will become closer as a team because of all the adversity. It is us against the world. Let’s go win this one and continue our season in a positive manner. Like he has been saying the last few weeks, let’s just go 1-0 this week and then worry about the next one when it shows up. We have a really, really important battle this week and we have to get after these guys.”


On if P Jamie Gillan is at the point where he has the precision to nail almost all of his kicks or if inexperience is still a factor:

“I will be honest with you, he had eight punts the other night and seven of them were outstanding. Two of the ones that were touchbacks, one went into the end zone that we need to find that ball. That is something that we emphasize a lot and we emphasized it again this week especially in practice yesterday. Then the one was a penalty, it was a perfect kick. It died at the 3-yard line, and inexplicably, we touched the ball after it going out of bounds. That is something that we pride ourselves on being a smart, situational football team. We talk about it all the time – me talking about it and our players understanding it and being focused on it. Being a young team, that is no excuse. They have to execute that. I can’t be on the field for him. Obviously, thank goodness. At the end of the day, they know the rules, they know their job and they know their assignment. In order to play fast and execute, they have to focus. Our focus level has to be higher and higher and higher. I think Freddie called it earlier this week hyper-focused. The focus has to be on an all-time high in every situation because every situation could be the determining factor in whether you win or lose a game. That was a tough penalty for us because they got the ball at the 20, and I think they had a few penalties on our defense and Pittsburgh went down, scored and made it a 14-7 game. It is inexcusable. Could not believe it happened. It is not going to happen again, and we just have to learn from it and move on. Like any young team, we have to learn from every one of our mistakes and everything that we do well, and we did a lot of really good things on Thursday night. We have to build on those and continue to get better.”


On if Gillan is become really good at his craft:

“He is. I have told many people and I think I told you guys before that we are just scratching the surface with this guy. I am starting to find out some of the different things that he can do with the football. I think he had a real good night the other night. He was better as a holder, and he was better as a punter. The situation at the end of the game, he had a 1.75 get off which is outstanding when we knew they were bringing pressure, and they fair caught it at the 10 and almost dropped the ball. He is doing a really nice job with all the different situations. Very coachable, starting to understand the game better and he is helping us win.”


On the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ with the number of missed kicks this year heading into the Dawg Pound:

“Bermuda Triangle? That is actually a good way to put it. Everybody, our opponents have had problems. (K) Austin (Seibert), all of his misses have been at that end of the field. It is funny because you talk to (K) Phil Dawson before the season, and I got a lot of information from Phil. Obviously, he spent many great years here. He never gave me that indication that the Dawg Pound was that bad, but he did say, once the ball gets up in the air, the winds do not always do what the flags are showing. I think that is what is happening. Austin does such a good job of getting the ball up in the air. One of the things that I liked about him coming out of Oklahoma, his timing was good, his elevation was good and obviously, he was very accurate. He does get a lot of great elevation, and there are sometimes when it gets up there and those crazy winds. The first kick, he pushed right and then he missed the 50-yarder – he did great, drilled it and it got started going down the middle then all of a sudden the wind just took it. It did not seem like it was that windy. We sent them down there again yesterday like we always do, and he was 12 for 12 in the Dawg Pound end. It was not that windy yesterday, but that gives him confidence going forward.”


On the combined FG and PAT percentage heading into the Dawg Pound:

“Yeah, it is crazy. I just look at what our guys have done. Yeah, all five of his misses – knock on wood – he has made every other kick in every other stadium and the other end.”


On if there is another half of field in the league as tricky to kick in, specifically Heinz Field:

“I think Heinz Field probably. I have not played there or coached there a lot. I think the one end there is supposed to be pretty bad, as well, especially this time of year and on into December. That is something that we just got to keep working on, sending them down there and getting them confidence because he is a confident young man and he will bounce back and he will do well for us. He has helped us a lot so far this year and he will continue to do so.”


On if Dawson shared specifics on the ‘Dawson flag’ and how to read the flags located around the stadium:

“It was blowing. I do not think it is that he has not learned how to read it. It comes down to not overthinking it, to be honest with you. Phil just said hit your true ball. You hit a true ball, and sometimes you can’t really determine what the winds are going to do or would even guess what they might do. I think at the end of the day, you have to practice it, you have to go down there and keep working on it. Pregame is always important, and Austin struggled a little bit in pregame as their guy did on that end so we knew it was going to be an issue. We just have to learn how to kick the right kick at the right time.”


On if he is frustrated the Browns have not had many long returns and the Dolphins’ long returns this year:

“To answer the first part, (Dolphins WR) Jakeem Grant is an outstanding kickoff returner. I know he is a young guy. (QB) Baker Mayfield played with him for one year, Baker’s freshman year at Texas Tech and he told me some things about him yesterday. He is confident, and you can tell by the way he runs. Extremely quick. You have to throttle down under control to get him tackled, and we talk about tackling with your feet first all of the time and that is kind of our coaching point with him. He can make you miss in a phone booth, he is so quick. He is also explosive. He can break tackles. He is so strong for a smaller man. He has exceptional speed and explosion. Those are the things that make you concerned about him. The second part of your question, I do not know if ‘frustrating’ is right or if I am ‘frustrated’ by that. You want to have big plays, and we had one against Seattle. We really have not broken a big one since. Then punt return, we have not really got going. We have two young returners that have to continue to work and continue to gain confidence. We are going to continue (RB) Dontrell (Hilliard) as punt returner and (CB) Tavierre (Thomas) as our kickoff returner. Tavierre was one block away from a big play on the left return last week. We are close. We just have not got over the hump yet, and that is what we are looking for.”


On what goes into making a guy a great special teams player:

“You have to be a good enough athlete – fast, strong, tough, smart. You need to play a little bit smarter, obviously. I think the guys that really want to be good special teams players are the ones that are the best special teams players. An example I use from two weeks ago is (Bills LB) Lorenzo Alexander. Here is a 14-year veteran who made his name, made his mark on special teams and went to the Pro Bowl for Arizona as a special teams player. Then he becomes a starter at linebacker and does not want to come off the field. There is something about that young man that makes him special in terms of being a core contributor on special teams and an outstanding linebacker. He comes to mind. I have coached several guys like that who have either been really good returners and a really good gunner like (Bears WR) Cordarrelle Patterson. A great receiver in (former NFL receiver) Percy Harvin who is also a great kickoff returner. Marcus Sherels who was a role player for us in Minnesota, who is known as we see in Miami, he was as a great punt returner and played on the other three phases and was the best gunner we had year in and year out. Those guys had something special that in their mind, their want to, their heart, they have a passion for the game and those are the type of guys that make great core contributors on teams.”


On how jarring was the altercation that ended Thursday night’s game:

“I think you guys have covered that enough last week. Honestly, I do not want to go there. I am focused on the Miami Dolphins. We have been tasked to focus on the Miami Dolphins, and that is what we are going to do. We won a game. It was a hard fought game, and I am excited about this weekend.”


On how the team is going to respond and Mayfield’s response of ‘we will find out Sunday’:

“I would agree 100 percent with Baker. We will find out Sunday.”


On if it is harder to recover surprise onside kicks because of the new kickoff rules:
“I think the surprise part is probably even harder to get those because you have eight guys in the setup zone. It is how you deploy them and how you set those guys up. We are going to have to change what we do a little bit based on what Miami does to take that away. I will be honest with you, you do not want him to kick it. There is an opportunity for them to recover it if they do kick it so we are going to try to take it away by alignment, we are going to try and take it away by focus and if they kick it, we are going to get good field position. That is our stance on that.”


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