STC Mike Priefer (9.10.20)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

On who the Browns may use in the return game: 

“The guys getting work this week are still (WR) JoJo (Natson), (RB) D’Ernest (Johnson) and (WR) Donovan (Peoples-Jones). Those three guys are still getting work there at both punt return and kickoff return. (WR) KhaDarel Hodge has gotten some work on punt returns. (CB) Tavierre Thomas has been a kickoff returner before, as well. We are trying to create as much depth there as we possibly can, and then going into the week, that is where we are going to do. One of those top three guys will be it.”


On Hodge’s contributions on special teams: 

“KhaDarel Hodge brings a toughness. I have coached receivers on special teams before, and the guys that are really good, they play like DBs, and sometimes receivers do not like to hear that. He plays fast. He plays physical. He is smart. Like I said, he is tough. Everything we believe in on special teams in terms of discipline and plays with enthusiasm and passion, those are the things I like about KhaDarel. He is mentally tough, physically tough, and he plays with great effort. Those are kind of the four words we have talked about before – toughness, effort, discipline and enthusiasm. That is what he brings to the table.”

On if the Browns signed K Cody Parkey to the practice squad due to the pandemic or to add competition for K Austin Seibert: 

“Probably the pandemic. The COVID rules now, if something happened to Austin or if he came back positive, we do not have a chance to bring in a guy and not even work him out but if that happened on a Saturday, we can’t just sign a guy on a Saturday and play on Sunday with the testing rules and all the different protocols. What we did is obviously (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry), (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski), our personnel department and coaching department, we made the decision that the best thing for us was to bring in a guy that could go out and help us score points if we needed to and we could bring him up Sunday morning if we needed to if something happened to Austin. Competition, it obviously makes everybody better. It makes coaches better. It makes players better. It can’t hurt that Cody is a very good kicker, as well, that he will push Austin a little bit, but Austin is our guy. He is the guy we believe in. He is the guy that is going to help us win games this year. We firmly believe that.”

On signing Parkey over other Ks available: 

“Quite honestly, we felt like he was the best guy available that was on the street that was a free agent that was not with a team already. He came in here, and he had a phenomenal workout. About three weeks ago, we had the kicker workout. He was the best one there. (Patriots K) Nick Folk did a nice job. Of course, he is with New England now. (Free agent K) Kai Forbath did a nice job. We felt Cody was the best combination field goal and kickoff guy that we could sign that could help us win games if we needed him to.”

On if Natson’s size impacts the decision to be the kickoff returner: 

“That would be a concern if he was fresh coming out of college. I think he has some kickoff returns under his belt. The thing that JoJo does a good job with is he can make you miss. When people need to tackle him, they have to throttle down a little bit sooner than some other returners because he is so quick or they are going to miss him. Hopefully, they do not hit them quite as hard that way, No. 1. No. 2, he definitely knows how to avoid that contact. He has been doing it a long time, and when you are 150 pounds, you have to learn quick or you are not going to be around very long.”

On Browns players who are standing out on special teams that contributed last year:

“(TE) Stephen Carlson is guy that comes to mind. I think he has done a nice job. He actually contributed a lot last year in the seven or eight games that he played. We are going to rely more on him. (S) Sheldrick Redwine is a guy that played for us last year, but he started down the stretch towards the end of the season. He was a guy we could not use as much at the end of the year. He is the guy we are going to rely on a lot. (CB) Robert Jackson is hopefully a guy at some point will be on the active roster so we can use him and guys on the practice squad right now. (RB) D’Ernest Johnson did a great job for us last year because he is not a rookie anymore, we are going to expect more from him. The guys that played for us last year a lot of special teams reps that did not have a lot of experience coming into last year that were younger players, those are the type of guys that are going to be more leaders on special teams. We have talked about that before. Those are the guys – the second, third-year players – that are really going to provide that leadership for the younger guys to help us get better.”

On the differences between last year’s team and this year’s at this point of the year:

“I think it way too early to tell. Last year, we had higher expectations coming out, and I think that was more media driven. This year maybe not as much, but we expect to be good. We expect to go out there and play hard. We expect on special teams to score, set up scores in the return game and to give our defense great field position, and then in the coverage phases, score when we need to on field goal or force or block a kick on punt return, punt block and field goal block. As far as special teams is concerned, I think we should be better. I thought we did some good things in the coverage phases last year. We need to be better in the return game, which is why JoJo is here. Hopefully, we will block better than we did a year ago. We still have to play penalty free. We have to be more disciplined than we were at certain times last year. We have a ways to go on special teams. That is the way I look at it to be quite honest with you. It is too hard to tell right now as a team, but I like our team and I like our guys. I think we have a good group. We have a good locker room, and we have a good coaching staff. Let’s go win a bunch of games.”

On how he feels heading into his second season with the Browns:

“A little bummed out that I can’t go to any Cleveland Indians games. Other than that, I feel pretty good.”

On if there will be opportunities to use WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on returns: 

“I think if they are 100 percent healthy, it is something that I think Coach could consider. At the end of the day, right now, I would say they are emergency guys that can go out and do it. They do not need a lot of work. They are so talented at catching punts and kickoffs and fielding punts. I would not hesitate to put Jarvis out there to help us win a game if we needed him.”

On if there is more anxiety heading into Week 1 this year due to the lack of live reps due to no preseason games: 

“I think a little bit. If you really look back at it, though, before we opened up last year against Tennessee, I had a rookie punter and a rookie kicker. Talk about anxiety, I do not think I slept much that week. We are playing a really good Baltimore team, and I think because they are so good on special teams and they are so-well coached, (Ravens Head) Coach (John) Harbaugh has done a great job with no matter who their coordinator is. (Ravens special teams coordinator) Chris (Horton) does a great job as a coordinator there, just like Jerry (Rosburg) did before him. They are very well-coached. They are disciplined. They play hard. That provides a lot of anxiety on top of which, obviously, we have not tackled and we did not see any live reps in any preseason games. Everybody, all 32 teams, are like that so obviously, there will be no excuses there. We just have to go out and execute.”

On if the fact the Browns play the Ravens twice every year helps plan for their scheme and eliminates the mystery, given there were no preseason games this year:

“I don’t know. Probably for us, too, because they played us twice and play us twice a year. I have been studying Baltimore since the spring. The three divisional opponents that we have – Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – I have studied them hard all offseason and all summer, and I am sure they have done the same for us and for the other divisional teams. Is there mystery? No, we just have to go out and play hard and play tough. We have to take away their punt fakes. Their punter (Ravens P Sam Koch) is six for six in his career on fake punts. No. 41 the fullback on the punt team is the personal protector (Ravens DB/LB Anthony) Levine (Sr.), he has done a great job of running fakes, as well. Our task is to stop the fakes and stop what they do well. They have the best kicker in the game in (Ravens K) Justin Tucker so we have to provide as much pressure on him on field goal block as we can. We have our work cut out for us, like we do every week in this league. They are an outstanding group. They have guys who play hard. (Ravens LB) L.J. Fort, he is starting on defense but he is still going to be playing on special teams, I am sure, at some point. Whoever they have backing him up on teams will probably play just as hard as him. That is the anxiety that I have, that I have had the past couple of weeks and will have the rest of this week.”

On his relationship with Head Coach Kevin Stefanski and how he has supported Stefanski in his first year as head coach:

“More than anything, just a sounding board. He will have ideas about everything that we have gone through, and myself, (offensive line) Coach (Bill) Callahan, (offensive coordinator) Coach (Alex) Van Pelt, (defensive coordinator) Coach (Joe Woods) and other guys on the staff who have been around awhile, I think we have all done a nice of being a sounding board for him, providing ideas when he needs them and if he has ideas that he just wants to throw at us to see what we think and what our opinion is. I think as a staff, we have done a nice job of supporting him and we will continue to do so. It is a tough year? Absolutely. Has he done a good job? Absolutely. Now, we have to go out and perform on Sundays.”

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