STC Mike Priefer (2.19.20)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement:

“Good afternoon, everybody. I am sure you guys missed the heck out of me. I know I missed the heck out of you guys.”

 

On if he had opportunities to go to other teams:

“I was under contract so the only way I could have left was if they would have allowed me to leave. I heard there were some scattering of interest out there, but it did not matter. I wanted to stay here. I wanted to be a part of this franchise. Like I said last week to (Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and when our website interviewed me, we have some unfinished business. We did some really good things last year and I am very pleased with our progress and the direction that we are going in, but we are nowhere near where we need to be to help this football team win a lot of games. That is one of the reasons I am really excited about staying.”

 

On if he expected Head Coach Kevin Stefanski to ultimately become a head coach when together in Minnesota:

“Back in 2011, probably, probably not. I was a little younger, and he was a lot younger. You could see him grow up as a coach. You could see him grow as a leader. The last maybe three or four years, we started talking about it in Minnesota – not a lot but every now and then. I interviewed with the Bears in 2013 maybe, and he would ask me about that experience and that situation  and what it was like. I could just see his interest and his growth as a young coach. I knew that being a head coach was definitely in his future, absolutely.”

 

On Stefanski’s traits and characteristics that stand out as a head coach:

“He is smart. He is a good leader. He has charisma. He has kind of the it factor that most good head coaches have in that you can lead a team. He has humility. I think he has got the ability to stand in front of the room and lead a football team, and I think that is what all the great head coaches need to have.”

 

On building the Browns special teams in his second year:

“We have a long way to go. Our two young kicker and punter, our young guys have to improve in Year 2. Some of the things that maybe are not allowed to happen but we did not get it as much of hitting a sub-par punt or missing a PAT, which are obviously unacceptable, we have to make sure that stuff does not happen again. We are going to be more consistent. We are going to be stronger. We are going to be better kicking PATs and field goals and better situational punting. Our return games have to improve immensely. I think we have a long way to go there. I think our two young returners did a good job. Our two running backs did a good job last year for us for the most part. Whether we continue to get them developed or we bring in new return man, that remains to be seen, but at the end of the day, we have to improve the return unit, as well. There are a lot of factors that need to improve – coverage, as well. Punt coverage at the beginning of the year was not very good. We got better as the year went on. Kickoff coverage was good pretty much the whole year, but we can still get better in that regard, as well. We have to take advantage of our stadium. We have to not miss PATs in the Dawg Pound end. We have to make everything. We have to make sure our opponents miss on that end like we have talked about for. I am excited about where we are, but I am really excited about the future.”

 

On his message to P Jamie Gillan and K Austin Seibert at the end of the season:

“I had good discussions with them and I have been in discussion with them – texting and calling them a couple of times to see how they are doing and how their offense is going. I think the big thing I stress is what I just said – consistency. They did so many good things. There is a reason why they made our football team. There is a reason why they won those jobs. If you are not going to be most consistent, then have to start making our list and looking elsewhere. I do not think we are there yet. We are not even close to being there yet. We have to understand that there is always going to be that issue. There are always going to be young men, young kickers and punters behind them that are on the street that are willing to do whatever it takes to get on a NFL team. If they look it that way and they push themselves in a positive direction, then I think we are going to be OK because they do have the talent to do all the things that we are asking them to do.”

 

On his role in helping other Browns coaches transition to Cleveland, given his year of experience with the team:

“First thing is a lot of our coaches have already come into my office and asked about their position players because they know I know the whole team so they would come and ask me about the DBs, the linebackers, the D linemen, the wide receivers, etc. I think I have eased that transition from the coaching staff perspective, but in terms of the players, I am just going to be who I am. I am going to be positive. With Kevin’s messages going to permeate down to the coaching staff and to the rest of the team, I am going to deliver that message, I am going to support that message and I think when we do that, when we are all on the same page and all on board with the same program, we will be in good shape.”

 

On if received a sense of how Stefanski felt about special teams when in Minnesota together:

“He was coaching quarterbacks when I left so obviously they were not going to play special teams. Prior to that when he was coaching running backs or tight ends, he was very supportive. I think that is what makes a great coaching staff is when the linebacker coach can walk into his room and tell those young linebackers, ‘Hey, you better play well on special teams because if you are not a starter on defense and you are not playing well on special teams, not only will you not dress but you might not make our football team.’ Kevin was always very supportive in that regard as a position coach, and I thought that was huge, especially with the running backs when he coached them and then the tight ends, which are two pivotal rooms that help our special teams units.”

 

On his reaction to the XFL’s kickoff rules:

“I did not watch a game. I am focused on finding a returner, finding other core guys and trying to help our group and our roster. Nothing against the XFL – I am sure it is a fun league – but some people told me about it and all the rules. I am kind of a purest. I am an NFL purest. I actually was mad when they outlawed the wedge back in 2011, which I am glad we did because that was a dangerous play. I think the way the kickoff/kickoff return is going now, it is a safer play than it ever has been and the last two years have proven that. I do not like that there are so many touchbacks. Maybe that is one way to get rid of touchbacks, but we did not kick a lot of touchbacks on kickoff coverage. We gave people the opportunity to return it, and we got after them. We were pretty aggressive in the return game, as well. We have to pick and choose our spots in that regard. I like our rules. I am all for player safety, but at the end of the day, an exciting play that has been part of our game forever, why ruin it? Why tinker with it too much? That would be my thoughts.”

 

On if there are significant stats regarding when to take a touchback compared to attempting a return:

“Obviously, if you are better in the return game – we were not as good on kickoff return as we need to be. If we get better, which we plan on doing, we will take some opportunities out for 2-4 yards deep and bring it out to the 35-40 yard line because those are huge, huge plays. When you do that, every now and then you are going to get tackled at the 21, 22 or the 18 because you are taking a chance. We did that in Minnesota for years with two great returners we had there – (former Vikings WR/RS) Percy Harvin and (Bears WR Cordarrelle Patterson). We used to bring them all out. Sometimes you get tackled inside the 20. It is risk/reward like anything else in football. We need to be smarter this year than we were a year ago when we bring those out.”

 

On not a lot of good things happening in the return game in 2019:

“A couple of times but not enough. You are right. Not enough. We need to get to that where we will just take a knee like a lot of teams do and I do not want to do that. I think you can take advantage of that situation, especially in our stadium. When guys are trying to kick touchbacks and they are kicking a 3.7 hang time kick 3 yards deep, that is a huge advantage for the return game. When it is 4.1-4.2 hang time 5 yards deep, you are going to take a knee. Obviously, you are taking too big a chance there to try to get a big play.”

 

On how much special teams deficiencies can be attributed to a young roster last season:

“This year is a new year. There are a lot of things that happened last year that were not good enough, and I am glad we have an opportunity to get better this year.”

 

On if accountability was an issue last season:

“Again, I am really not going to focus a whole lot on last year just to be fair to last year’s staff – I was part of that staff – and last year’s players. 2020 is a new year, and I am excited about the new year. I am excited about the direction that we are going. Let’s get at it.”

 

On if there are special teams rules he would recommend changing or evaluating this offseason:

“Probably not. The only thing we need to look at is the onside kick success percentage, which is very low. I am not in favor of a fourth-and-15 from the 25 or whatever it was. I think that is silly. I think you can make some changes to it. The player that is going to kick the onside kick and then you can have a running start or something. Still a safe enough play but it needs to be a play where you have a higher percentage of getting that kick. I think it used to be in the 20s. Now, I think last year it was 8-9 percent if that high. In order to take advantage of the rules and maybe we can tweak out a little bit, but it could affect some of what it was before with that 4-5 yard running head start and declare that you are going to onside kick it and see what happens. We are going to talk a little bit about it at the combine. The coordinators that were involved two years ago with the rule changes for kickoff/kickoff return, we are going to meet with (NFL Senior Vice President of Football Operations Policy and Compliance) Dave Gardi and the league this year at the combine. That is one of the issues we are going to talk about.”

 

On if blocking or return decisions from last year need to be improved more:

“Probably a little bit of both. We had a huge one in Seattle, we had a huge one against Cincinnati last game of the year and two guys that have never returned before. Obviously, those were the two bigger plays that we had, and we had a lot other returns that were not very good. I think it is a combination of both to be honest with you.”

 

On the most difficult aspect of coaching staff changes:

“The most difficult part? I guess getting to know the staff, but that is not hard. I am a people person. Like Kevin came in and said earlier, we got good people. When you get a bunch of good people around each other and they are good football coaches, the sky is the limit. Is that difficult? Probably not. We will get to know the guys as we get going. Some of which I had already had a relationship. I have known (defensive coordinator) Joe (Woods) for a long time, and obviously, we kept (assistant special teams) Doug (Colman) which is great. (Tight ends coach) Drew Petzing, I have known Drew. I have known (pass game coordinator/defensive backs) Jeff Howard. That part makes it a little bit easier. I guess the only difficult part was seeing friends of mine that were good coaches leave the building. That is always hard. The future is the fun part.”

 

On expectations for structure, discipline and attention to detail from the coaching staff:

“I think any good program, any good locker room has attention to detail, it has discipline and it has accountability. I know those things Kevin will emphasize and we will all support him in that obviously. We will go forward from there. I think the big thing that I like is that coaching is teaching. We have talked about that before. Great coaches are great teachers. I think we have assembled that. The guys that I know are really good teachers, and the guys that I do not know as well, I hope that is the case and I am sure it is or they would not be here. I am excited about seeing the growth of the staff and the growth of the team under this new staff. Like I said before, the sky is the limit.”

 

On what he learned about Woods during their seasons together in Minnesota:

“On Saturday mornings after the special teams meetings was over, I would go into Joe’s DB room and just listen to his meeting for about 15-20 minutes every Saturday morning. It was kind of my routine. What I like is I like watching good coaches teach, and I learn from that. It makes me a better coach. It makes me a better teacher. I knew Joe was a great teacher right from the get go. I think he will do a phenomenal job not only with our DBs and their group but the entire defense. At the end of the day, I think that is what makes it exciting for me that he is here. He is such a great teacher.”

 

 

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