STC Mike Priefer (9.2.20)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement: 

“It has been a great camp so far. I think our players have done a great job and our organization has done a great job. Every team is going through difficult circumstances with the virus, and I think the way we are handling things is outstanding. Everybody is being a pro. Even the young players have bought into what we are trying to do so it has been fun. It has been great to be on the grass. Obviously, I missed coaching the guys on the grass. That is the most fun that I have with the players. The spring was OK. We had a lot of meetings and Zoom meetings and we got a lot accomplished, but there is nothing like being out on the grass coaching the guys.”


On how the elimination of preseason games impacts his ability to evaluate players on special teams: 

“Yeah, that is the question that obviously we all worried about back in the spring when we found out there was going to be no preseason games. I knew my job was going to be a little bit more difficult in that regard. It is kind of twofold. Every special teams coordinator in the league has to A. try to evaluate all the young players in and B. get your guys ready to play Week 1. It is kind of a double-edged sword type deal. I tell our guys, ‘Look, you are going to be evaluated all the drill work. You are going to be evaluated on all the show team looks that you give and all the other show team reps. Have a great attitude, go out there and continue to work hard and if there is an injury or something happens to a veteran that is maybe not performing well enough, then you will have your opportunity.’ Other than that, the great thing that the league did this year is that there are going to be 16 players on the practice squad. Honestly, we will have 53 plus 16 and we have the 69 guys. You never know, the way you can move guys up and down on the roster based off the new rules this year gives more guys opportunities. To answer your question, I think it is more difficult that way, and we are just doing the best we can.”


On K Austin Seibert: 

“Austin had a great offseason. He would send me videos of all his kicks. He had his wife out there videotaping on their iPad at a high school field down in Texas. He had a couple of his buddies helping him out videotaping. He would send me those videos, and then my kids would help me figure out how to look at them on the iPad because I had no idea (laughter). We would look at those together and we would do Zoom meetings. We would do that a couple times a week. We did the same thing with (P) Jamie (Gillan), (LS) Charley (Hughlett), the returners and some of the other core guys so we had a lot of work that way. I thought that Austin had a phenomenal offseason. He is stronger than he was a year ago. He is more consistent than he was a year ago. I think his prospects are huge, and we expect really good things from him this year.”


On the Browns signing WR JoJo Natson to help the punt return game and how WR Donovan People-Jones is developing: 

“JoJo, I am very happy he is here. He has exceptional quickness. He catches punts and kickoffs very, very well. I studied him and I knew a little bit about him from the last few years in the league, but you do not get as many reps at seeing him catch the ball and how he tracks the ball. He is very, very good at that, which obviously bodes well for him and for us. His vision is good. We are working on some different things with him to help him be successful more downfield, but he is going to make that first guy miss more than not, and that is the exciting thing about him. Like I said, he catches the ball and tracks the ball well. He has done a nice job both at punt and kickoff returner. Donovan who had a lot of punt return experience and who looks like a kickoff returner because of how big and fast he is, he has done a nice job in both return phases, as well. We have really four guys, those two guys and (RB) Dontrell Hilliard and (RB) D’Ernest Johnson are all competing for those two return spots.”


On if he had any input with the Browns personnel staff when signing Natson: 

“Of course, they did. What I like about what (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew does with his personnel department and Kevin does with the whole coaching staff is there is great communication. Obviously, I do not make those final decisions, but we do have the ability to give our input, which has been fantastic. I really appreciate that because some organizations are not like that. I have been a part of organizations that are not really like that. It has been a great relationship. I guess I am the old guy, one of the old guys on the staff so I hope they would listen to me from time to time anyway (laughter).”


On what Natson brings that was missing from last season’s return game: 

“I do not blame only the returners. We did not block particularly well most of the year on punt return. Kickoff return, we had some good plays. Punt return, we need to do a better job. We had a couple penalties where we were obviously lower in penalties than they were the year before, but we still have to be going in that direction. We have to keep trending in the direction of reducing penalties in both return phases. I think what he gives us that most teams do not have is that exceptional quickness right off the bat. He can make that first guy miss on punt return. He can make that quick set on kickoff return and punt return. He can do things that guys who are bigger than him or maybe even a little bit faster than him do not have the ability to do because he has a low center of gravity and great quickness.”


On if Sunday was the first time K Austin Seibert worked on kicking towards the Dawg Pound at FirstEnergy Stadium since last season:

“The three specialists went down [to the stadium] a week ago so that is the second time they went down there. We had them go down during a walkthrough the afternoon. We were allowed to do that so they went down there and got a lot of work in – punting, kicking and snapping. He did most of his [toward the Dawg Pound]. I think he took maybe 36 field goals and 24 of those were in the Dawg Pound. Ro me, it is kind of breaking that psychological barrier. I think he is fine. Like I said, he is stronger and more confident than he was a year ago. He had three over 50 field goals, one of which was a mayday situation that he did hit, but the other kicks he had, inside the 50, he was 12 for 12 the other day. Most of those, we into the Dawg Pound. I think he is getting more and more confidence. We are going to go again on Friday night down at the stadium and will get some more kicks in again down that end. Once he has success early, hopefully, that will be early and often, and that is what our goal is.”


On other Browns players who can really contribute on special teams:

“I would hate to mention like one or two guys because I do not want them to think that I am not coaching all these guys. I really enjoy this rookie class. They have come in with a phenomenal attitude, whether they were drafted or undrafted. They are working hard. They understand the opportunities are limited compared to past years. They do not make excuses. They study. Typically, they do not make the same mistake more than once. I liked our draft picks. I liked some of the guys who we have brought in. The two safeties, the college free agents, (S Javonte) Moffatt and (S) Elijah (Benton). (LB) Solomon Ajayi has done a nice job at linebacker. Some of these young receivers coming in have done a nice job for us. I think across the board, our guys have done a nice job. The personnel department did a really good job with their homework and bringing in the right type of people, not only the type of guys that we think we need to win with attitude wise and effort wise but also there is enough talent in that room that if they do not make the team initially, they put them on the practice squad and they have an opportunity to help us later down the road.”


On what he wants to see from P Jamie Gillan in Year 2:

“Consistency. We all know he has big leg. We all know he can hit the 50-yard, 5.0 [hang time] punt. He needs to follow the 50 yard, 5.00 punt with a great plus-50 punt that can be down at the 5 and then he comes back to hit another 50, 5.0 punt outside the numbers. I know no punter is perfect and I get that, but he has to be closer to being the consistent performer that we need him to be for our punt team and the weapon that we can be because he is our punter. Has he improved? Yes, he is bigger and stronger, and he had a great offseason as well, kicking and hit some field with his dog chasing all the footballs. Sometimes comical watching these videos sent, but it was awesome because they worked extremely hard. You can tell. I am sitting there timing his get offs and I am timing his hang time. His dad was snapping the ball and his sister was snapping the ball, whoever he could find, and it was great work this offseason. He has kind of followed it up with training camp. He is getting better. He is not quite where we need him to be, but he is working extremely hard.”


On his experience of receiving a false-positive COVID-19 test and missing practice that day: 

“The maddest I was, I guess, was not that I possibly had it because I did not do anything – I am quarantined like everybody else and I go from here to the hotel and my wife’s out of town so I just go to the hotel and back so I have not done anything – so I was surprised by that. I was really mad I could not come in the building. We had practice that day, and four hours later, I knew I did not have it when they came out and said it was a mistake so for that four-hour period, I am calling my wife, Debbie, and we are trying to figure out, ‘OK, what is the next step if I do have this.’ Does she come home and take care of me if I have got to quarantine in the house or does she not want to be there? We were looking at all the different options, just in case I had it, and then four hours later, we found out and then they would not let me in the building so I was going stir crazy. Ran the meeting that night and (assistant special teams coach) Doug (Colman) ran practice and did a good job running the punt team practice that day and I ran the meeting that night. Then the next morning, I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for my negative test to come back from the day before, the second test I had taken. I was just going a little bit stir crazy to be honest with you because I could not be with our guys.”


On how Head Coach Kevin Stefanski has handled adversity during his first year in the role: 

“I think Kevin has done a phenomenal job. I think he has shown the team and this organization and this whole area what a great leader he is. He has done a really nice job with understanding every situation. He is also a guy that is not an ego guy that he is going to ask you know guys like myself, (offensive line coach) Bill Callahan, (defensive coordinator) Joe Woods, (offensive coordinator) Alex Van Pelt and the other guys on our staff for our opinion. I think we have done a nice job communicating with him and helping him through this, but quite honestly, he has done a great job leading this organization through all those different factors.”


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