STC Mike Priefer (9.19.19)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement:

“Good morning. I hope everybody is doing well and having a good week. I was just checking out the weather again today. If you do not believe Cleveland is God’s country, then I do not know what your problem is. It is another beautiful, beautiful day here in Cleveland.


“We are coming off a solid win Monday night in New York. I thought our guys played well. They played hard across the board. We covered kicks well. Punt return game was pretty good. We had another penalty. We have to eliminate that. Punter did well. Kicker did well. Snapper did well. Kickoff return, we only had the one opportunity. We got tackled at the 19 to start the game. We have to find a way to get our kickoff return team going, and that is going to be the emphasis today in practice when we do KOR today and tomorrow.”


On Rams WR/RS JoJo Natson:

“He is terrifying. He is really quick. He is the fastest guy on the field. He is fearless for a little guy. When I was in Minnesota, we played at the Rams last year on a Thursday night and he was injured prior to the Sunday night. I do not like anybody getting hurt, but I am glad we did not have to face him. Unfortunately, we will have to face him on Sunday night. He has now become their dual returner so he is dangerous on both punts and kickoffs. He poses a big-time threat because you can’t be out of control at the point of attack or you are going to miss him. I told our guys in the meeting today that he can make you miss in a phone booth. He is that quick. We have to do a great job of surrounding him, throttling down, being under control and making a play.”


On if Natson has established himself in the upper echelon of NFL returners:

“I do not think so yet. He has the potential. I do not think he has had the productivity yet because he is so young, but he is definitely on that upward trend. Hopefully, we can stifle that upward trend a little bit on Sunday night.”


On P Jamie Gillan only allowing one punt return so far this season and the impressiveness of it:

“That is really important to what we do. He has the leg to do what some of these other punters around the league do with hitting a 60-65 yarder and hope for the best. That is not how we are wired. That is not how I am wired. Our guys understand that we want to limit the opportunities for the opponent’s return team every single opportunity for a guy because of that reason – JoJo Natson and the other returners that we are going to face this year. There are so many good ones that you do not want them to get it going. You are hoping, ‘Hey, we hit a 60-yarder and we get a 50 yard net.’ It does not always happen because those guys are going to make people miss. I know we can’t cover perfectly every time so we are trying to limit the opportunities for our opponents’ punt returners and kickoff returners for that matter, depending on the situation.”


On Gillan crediting the gunners for their efforts and who the Browns count on in those roles:

“First of all, you understood what he was saying? Did he talk slow or something (laughter)?

I am only kidding. I tease him all the time about that. He has a great accent. (CB) Tavierre  Thomas is the one gunner and (WR) KhaDarel Hodge, which has been a huge sign. Our personnel people did a great job getting a hold of him, and I can’t believe the Rams let him go. He is so talented. Both of those guys did a really good job the other night of finding the ball, beating their man off the ball – the corner over the safety and corner depending on if it was a vice – winning that battle, finding that ball, finding the returner, finding the ball and making the decision, which we coach over and over and over again. Because Jamie did such a good job for the most part directionally, it makes their job a little bit easier. Our protection did a good job for the most, We had one that was too close that we have to correct, and we have to make sure that does not happen. Our guys protected well. Jamie got the ball of quick and did a good job for the most part with his directional punts. It makes the job for the gunners easier. We have good gunners. We have guys that believe in what we are doing, and they understand that going back to the original question about limiting the opponent’s punt returner and the opportunities that they have, hopefully, it is going to be higher and a little bit shorter than some teams punt it. I do not want it 35 yards but 50 yards, 5.0 [hang time] or 48 yards, 4.8 [hang time], somewhere along those lines. A good hang-distance ratio, that helps our gunners and that helps everybody.”


On if Hodge has a reputation on special teams:

“He does. He does. We played them last year. I think he only had one game under his belt when we played them like Week 4 a year ago and I already knew about him, because he had already had made an impact in special teams in preseason and in that one game that he had played. I am very glad that we have him. For a young guy, he has some leadership abilities and some leadership qualities. He plays very, very hard and he is very intelligent. He understands his role. He is also becoming a better receiver. I was telling the offensive coaches yesterday, please do not use him at receiver – I do not want to get him tired for special teams. Usually, it is the other way around. He has done a nice job for us so far.”


On if he campaigned for Thomas to make the 53-man roster:

“I did. I did. I did not have to pound very hard because I think that (General Manager) John (Dorsey) and the personnel guys, they understood the importance of what Tavierre brings to the table. I did not pound very hard because they get it. I know (Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens) is obviously emphasizing the importance of special teams for our football team. He has done such a great job supporting what we do. It has made my job a lot easier. Guys like Tavierre going out there, he understands his role and he will play defense if they need him to. At the end of the day, he is dressing to pay in the four core phases, and he plays on the field goal block, as well. I think he is our only five-phase guy that we have.”


On his philosophy on trick plays and fakes on special teams:

“We did a few of them in Minnesota. We kind of pick and choose our spots. We will have one in every week, whether or not we use it is depending on the situation and depending on the confidence that we have in the play depending on sometimes the look that we get from our opponents. They do a really good job with the Rams. I was going to tell you guys that I did shave this morning, but I already grown this because I am nervous for all the fakes. It grows back really fast and grey when I am nervous about a team. They do a really good job of fakes. I think they had five that they tried last year. One they tried against us that we stopped, but they tried four others. I think three of them were successful. They have had a history of doing it. They are very creative. Their guys believe in what they do, and they have a punter that can throw the ball like a quarterback so that poses a big time threat.”


On the number of different types of punts Gillan has and when to use them:

“Depending on the field position. Depending on the winds and what not and what type of look that we get from our opponents. He probably has at least four or five different punts that he can pull out at any time that we actually work on in practice. I am not going to ever ask him to do… Last week, there was a situation where I wanted to do a certain punt, but we had not practiced it enough and I did not feel comfortable and he did not feel comfortable pulling it out and pulling that club, so to speak, out of his golf bag. At any one time at some point in his career, he is going to be able to do whatever he wants in that situation as long as he has practiced it that week and feels confident for that type of punt for that week.”


On if RB Dontrell Hilliard will remain the primary punt returner after returning from injury or will WR Jarvis Landry continue to return punts:

“Probably both. Get a little bit of both this weekend. Yeah, the guys will be prepared. Dontrell is back and he will be playing hopefully on every phase for us because he brings a lot to the table – speed and toughness. The one play he got hurt on, he actually slipped. He actually did a great job on the kickoff cover. He actually slipped and that is when he ran into the hip of the returner against Tennessee. I think these guys are really buying in. They are believing in what we are selling. Dontrell is one of those guys that we are going to rely on all year as a returner or otherwise.”


On Landry being close to breaking a punt return against the NY Jets:

“There were a couple that he was close. They did a nice job. Their center for the Jets is a very good athlete. We knew that going in. We tried to slow him down with (DE) Chad Thomas, and Chad did a good job initially, but the kid got away from him on one of them and made a nice play on Jarvis. He was pretty close. Our guys did a good job. Jarvis has such great vision and great leadership. He kind of changes the mentality of the punt return unit when he is out there because you know he can break one at any time.”


On preparing for an opponent like the Rams who have many fakes and trick plays on special teams and disguise them well:

“I think you have to keep it simple for our guys. Whether we are in a defensive stage on punt return against their punter knowing that there is a threat or there is a possibility. It is also the call that I would make on fourth down, depending on the down and distance, field position and how many guys we have in the box. Every situation is going to be a little bit different, but to be quite honest, we have to be ready for a fake every single time we go out there. We have to be ready for a surprise onside with our kickoff return unit. We have to be ready for a counter or reverse with their kickoff return unit. There are a lot of different things that we have to prepare for. I will be honest with you, I started preparing for the Rams back in the spring, running fakes against our punt return unit against and against our defense stage unit back in the spring through the summer. Not that it guarantees success, but at least our guys understand where we are coming when we are talking about it this week.”


On if is pleased with the Browns special teams only having three penalties on special teams this season, given the improvement from last year:

“No, I was not pleased in the first game. I thought there were two penalties on one play. They were not very good things. We had the one that was the phantom illegal double team on that kickoff return, but you still have to learn from it and move on. The penalty the other day, we had an 18-yard punt return, which is outstanding. It would have been about a 35-36-yard net for the Jets, and our nose blocks a guy in the back late. I understood what he was trying to do, but it was not a good decision. I think the guys are knowing and we also avoided several penalties on punt return the other night so guys are learning. There is some progress there. We are not anywhere near where we need to be. I am not happy with any penalties, but I understand what you are saying. It is a reduction, but if we want to get where we want to get to and especially on our return phases, we have to eliminate them across the board, period.”


On positives from K Austin Seibert’s performance on Monday, in addition to his made FGs and PATs:

“His demeanor was outstanding the whole night. I told him after the game, I am walking off the field and after the game, I said, ‘You looked like a confident kicker today.’ The first game was not so confident and obviously he missed that first one, but he kicked off well for us. They were taking a knee 1-yard deep in the end zone so we said, ‘OK, kick them a little bit shorter.’ We wanted our kickoff team to go down there and cover. Our guys did a great job of doing so. I think he kicked off well, his demeanor was great and he approached every kick like it was a game-winner. He did a really good job for us. The snaps and holds were great and the protection was great on field goals and PATs. Our guys did a good job.”


On if he has picked Hodge’s brain at all about the Rams special teams:

“That is a good question. We asked KhaDarel yesterday and today in our special teams meeting this morning. What are they thinking here? I have a good idea of what they are doing, but he knows the ins and outs of it. He just gives us a little bit of insight, not exactly what they are going to. They might change their calls up a little bit. I do not rely on that a whole lot. He is a smart player that was very much involved with their special teams. He understands when they are going to run fakes, what type of fakes they are going to run, what their mindset is on kickoff return or whatever the case may be. His intelligence and his recollection of obviously what they have done during the past couple of years that he has been there, last year and this year, it really has helped us.”


On if he saw Hodge as a special teamer when signed, while the public generally views the signing as a WR:

“I see a special teamer, absolutely. I see gunner. I see the five on kickoff, front line KOR guy and the MIKE backer is what we call them on punt return. That is what I see. Eventually, I am sure like any young man, he wants to be a starter on offense, but we have a pretty good receiver core so until he becomes a starter, he is going to be a four-phase guy for us.”


On the specialists’ time at FirstEnergy Stadium this week:

“It was a short week. They had kicked so much and they were a little bit sore after Monday night. Tuesday was our day off. Yesterday morning, we are practicing less than 48 hours since they had played in the game so we did not take them down this week, but we will start that back up again next week.”


On Browns Legend Clay Matthews being inducted into the Browns Ring of Honor Sunday:

“I think it is great. I loved watching him play. What a great player he was. You guys know that. Just growing up, he was one of the stalwarts of that defense. He always played so hard. He always just seemed to show up every week. He was a fun guy to watch when I was a young man growing up.”


On if he has favorite Matthews moment or trait:

“Whenever we beat Pittsburgh. That was always fun. He helped us beat them a few times. Not as much in the 70s, but the 80s were pretty good that I remember.”


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