STC Mike Priefer (12.5.19)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement:

“Good morning everybody. I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving. Obviously, our weekend could have gone better, and I thought it should have goner better. We let that one get away from us as fast as we started and we just did not keep the pressure on against a good team at home. When the stakes are that high, you have to keep playing play after play after play and get things done. We obviously did not play well enough on kickoff and kickoff return to win. I thought we punted and covered punts well. I thought we covered one kickoff well. I thought punt return was solid. (K) Austin (Seibert) had a great kick there to pin those guys deep late in the game down by seven. I thought that was a huge play for our special teams. Overall, we have to play better against a team like Pittsburgh on the road to help our team win, and that is going to be the focus this weekend against Cincinnati. They are one of the if not the best special teams unit in the NFL. They play hard every week. You would never know they are 1-11 by the way they play on special teams, which is a tribute to (Bengals special teams coordinator) Coach (Darrin) Simmons, his staff and the way those guys play.”


On if the Browns need to change personnel on kick return:

“Thought about that to be honest with you because of the dropped kick and that was a tough play to make, but he has got to make that play and I talked to (CB) Tavierre (Thomas) about that. I do not want to give up on him yet because it is so important to him. He has gotten better. He has improved in practice. You do not see it as much in the games. We have not had a ton of opportunities, but we have to make smarter decisions back there and he just has to keep fighting. I am not one to throw in the towel on a guy quickly. I am going to keep coaching him. Part of that is on me, and that is the way that I look at things. If they are not developing as quick as they need to, part of it is coaching. Part of it is playing obviously, and we have to keep working together to keep getting him better, and quite honestly, we need to block better. Pittsburgh, they covered extremely well. We knew they would. I am going to give a lot of credit to the kicker (Steelers K Chris) Boswell, who did a phenomenal job kicking. That is tough to do in that kind of [environment]. It was not that windy and obviously, it was not that cold, but when you kick the ball off that effectively – at home, he should because he knows the stadium better than anybody – but he made it very, very difficult for us to return kicks. We just have to do a better job fielding them, make better decisions and quite frankly we need to block better.”


On if Thomas will remain the team’s kick returner this Sunday:

“Maybe. I will let Coach Simmons guess on that one. We have got other options. (RB) Dontrell (Hilliard), we can put him back there. He still has a good average. (RB) D’Ernest Johnson is a guy that we could put back there, and then as the weather gets colder, too, you can put some bigger body guys back there, too, and get after it. I do not know what the weather is going to be like. I have been told that is not going to be that cold again on Sunday, which is amazing. God’s country – Cleveland, Ohio baby.”


On if Thomas should have tried to allow the fumbled kickoff to go out of bounds:
“I do not think so. I thought about that initially, but when you watch it on tape, he had to field that ball because it was close. You never know what you are going to get on a bounce and that is kind of risky when you do that. We teach our guys that if you are close to the sideline, you can establish yourself out of bounds with one foot in and all you got to do is touch the ball, as you guys probably know, and your body is an extension of out of bounds. Therefore, we are getting the ball at 40, but it was not close enough to the sideline to do that, and he was not in position to make that decision any way because he got there fast, but he to square up. He had time to square up. At the end of the day, it did not really hurt us, but if we get better field position there at the end of the half, we might get a field goal out of it because we did drive the ball a little bit there at the end of the first half.”


On if one goal on kickoff is to make opponents decide to kneel or take the ball out of the end zone based on kick placement:

“He has done a really nice job with that most of the year – the one out of bounds against Miami, and he had the one to the 10 yard line to start the second half against Pittsburgh, which is not what we wanted there because we gave  good returner time to get up on the ball. For the most part, he has done a really nice job, and we have a pretty good kickoff team. We have done a good job all year line, which we need to do this weekend because (Bengals S) Brandon Wilson is probably having the best year out of anybody, at least in the NFL. He is the best kickoff returner in our conference and certainly our division. I know Baltimore has got a good one. Pittsburgh, he did a good job the other day. They are playing with a lot of confidence on kickoff return so we need to make it very, very difficult for them to get something going. If that means higher and deeper kicks or higher and shorter kicks, whatever the case may be – we have line-drive kicks – we have to keep them off balance so their timing does not get going because they have a ton of confidence on kickoff return. Wilson is a big part of that because he has great vision, speed, incredible body balance. He does a great job with lateral movement in the hole. He has good vision for a guy that does not play running back. He is a very good returner. Austin has done a good job for us most of the year. We take a lot of pride in our kickoff team. It is going to be a good matchup on Sunday.”


On if the Browns practice pooch punts with Seibert every week or if it was specific to Heinz Field:

“Are you talking about the field-goal punt there in the fourth quarter. We actually worked on it a little bit in the spring a little bit in training camp. In Austin’s background, he was a four-year starter as a punter, as well as a field goal kicker and a kickoff specialists. He has the ability to do that. We introduced it in practice for the first time last week because of the time of year to be honest with you. I think that was the perfect time for us to make that call, and (Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens) did a great job of being on top of the situation. We made the call and we out and executed a really good play. It was close. The way I understand the rules that (TE) Stephen (Carlson) got two hands on the ball and downed it before he let it go. If I am on the other side, I probably do not like the call because his knee was touching the ball, but I have seen that call before on similar type of play. It worked out in our favor so it was good.”


On if Pittsburgh should have challenged the play:

“They did challenge. They did challenge it. He did one of these deals here and kind of dropped the mic type moment. I watched it. It was kind of cool.”


On if it was evident on the replay that the ball did touch Carlson’s knee:

“It did. I did not know that he had the second hand down until I saw the TV copy the next day. He got the right hand down then on the ball, left hand on the ball downing it and then he let it go, which was smart because if he takes it in the end zone it is a touchback. It did touch his knee, but the rule was – the officials, good for them were on top of it – that is the rule. It was kind of a cool play. I thought you guys would be a little bit more fired up about it (laughter). I was.”


On if Carlson’s presence of mind to let the football go prior to entering the end zone:

“It was a great play. As he is going in to the end zone, the momentum is taking him in to the end zone. He did a great job of letting it go. (P) Jamie (Gillian) – you hear the TV copy, and I think (CBS Analyst Dan) Fouts said something like he did not know what Jamie was doing – Jamie did a great job of not kicking the ball in the end zone. He kind of dives over Stephen and then (LS) Charley (Hughlett) is right there to down it at the 1-yard line. It was a well-kicked, well-executed play and gave our defense great field position. I thought was a cool play. It does not happen very often.”


On it being unusual for a TE to make the kind of play to down a punt inside that close to the goal line:

“He was the left wing and that is his job is to protect and then get out of there to down it. I thought everybody executed well. It was a great snap by Charley because it is an unusual snap by him. The only thing that we did do was we did not block it up right with Jamie because they came off the edge, and Jamie is supposed to chip that guy on his way out. You would of thought he was in Scotland playing rugby again for a second because he just wanted to get out of there and go down the ball.”


On Carlson’s performance on special teams:

“Done a nice job for us. He is reliable. He did a good job on the hands team play against Miami. He has been starting now on three phases. He did a good job on field goal when (TE) Demetrius Harris went out, and Stephen did not even practice that field goal punt last week. Demetrius was the guy that was out there with (RG Wyatt) Teller, and Stephen knew what to do because he is a smart, conscientious young man. He has done a nice job for us.”


On frustration when there is a good opportunity to pin an opponent inside the 10 and it results in a touchback:

“It is a huge change of field position, and you are going back to the Thursday night Pittsburgh game when we did not have to down the ball and we touched it after going out of bounds. Those are huge mistakes. I looked at our punt team, and I think this is kind of cool because they are playing pretty well – we have six rookies starting on the punt team, and no one else has that. Not that I know of and not to anybody that we have played. As I told the group yesterday, I said, ‘Fellas, you have enough reps under your belt now. You are no longer rookies. Not on special teams. You might be on offense or defense, but you are no long rookies on teams and we have enough reps under our belt.’ I am not going to let them use that as an out and say, ‘Oh well coach, I am just a rookie. I do not have enough reps.’ No, we have had enough practice reps, we have had enough preseason reps, we have enough regular season reps that the guys that we have out there are doing a nice job and they are working hard. They are getting better every day. It is kind of cool for me to see the growth of these guys. I know a lot of times you guys do not see it unless you are watching for it, but I am really proud of the way that they have developed this year and I like our group. There are some good young players out there that we have a good future with.”


On how Browns players are approaching this week and final four weeks of the season:

“That is what I was looking for yesterday when they walked in the building. Monday they came in, everybody, we were pretty down.  I was down obviously. We watched the game, we put that one to bed and we correct the mistakes and then they come back Wednesday, and I thought the locker room was outstanding. I thought the attention to detail, even though we slowed down practice a little bit because we got some guys that are banged up, the attention to detail was there. The mental part of it was there. I think guys are excited to get back on the field. It is a divisional game. It is an interstate rival. It is going to be a fun game. I do not care what their record is, it is Cleveland-Cincinnati. Being from this area, I know the tradition of that game and what it means. I think the coaches and players are reenergized. Like Freddie keeps talking about, going 1-0 this week, and honestly, it sounds simple but that is the exact mentality that we had to have, no matter I do not care the records are. We just have to get after it Sunday and go get a win.”


On the Browns’ approach to taking a touchback or making a return for kicks that reach the end zone:

“I have been asked that a lot lately. I think you guys know me by now how aggressive I am by nature on every phase and believing in our guys. We need to make some different decisions – maybe better decisions is the right word. There are times when we need to take a knee 2 or 3 yards deep in the end zone. Whether if we got a left return on and they kick it right, we have to be smart enough to understand the situation. That is part of the growth of young returners to be honest with you. I have to do a good job of continuing to remind them as they go out to the field. ‘Hey, this is what we are looking for here. We want the best field position possible.’ In Tavierre Thomas’ mind, he goes, ‘I am going to score every time I touch the ball,’ which is a good mentality to have, but we have got to make better decisions back there and we will going forward. That was a good question.”


On not being happy with the kickoff coverage last week:

“We had a missed tackle. We go up 3-0, and we call our kickoff team the momentum team. We have momentum. We had to keep the momentum like we have been doing all year long, and we have a missed tackle at the 20-yard line and another missed tackle at the 25-yard line. One guy dove, and they get out to the 41. I know he is a good returner, he is a good young returner. I get that. The scheme that we have, we had two guys unblocked at the point of attack. We have to make those plays and that was the frustrating part. You get out to the 41, our defense held them, and then we start the second half and we do not kick it well enough and they get out to the 31. That is two plays that is across the 30. I think we have only had one besides the kickoff out of bounds all year long that have gotten out past the 30. My math could be wrong, but I think I am pretty close. We typically get tackles inside the 25 or 20. That is what we pride ourselves on. That was my frustration in that phase.”


# # #