CLEVELAND — Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was one of three coaches from the 2019 staff that was retained by the organization after the hiring of first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski last month.
Although Priefer’s special teams units, particularly rookie kicker Austin Seibert and punter Jamie Gillan, had their success in 2019, he believes there is far more to be achieved as his players develop as professionals.
“We have some work to do, some unfinished business,” Priefer said in a release announcing his retention. “That's what the opportunity to come back is going to provide for us to do, to finish that business.”
The Browns made the rare decision to keep a rookie punter and first-year kicker in the same special teams room when training camp broke in August, but despite struggles with consistency at points during the season, both Gillan and Seibert were named to the 2019 Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) All-Rookie Team.
After a standout career at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Gillan earned his way onto the Browns’ 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent and unseated a Pro Bowl-caliber punter, Britton Colquitt, along the way by improving on his holding and producing well throughout the offseason program, during training camp and in preseason games.
Gillan finished his first NFL season with 63 punts for 2,913 yards, an average of 46.2 yards per kick, with only five touchbacks and 28 landing inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Gillan had a long punt of 71 yards.
During the 2019 season, Gillan was sixth in the AFC in punting average, tied for fifth in net average (41.6 yards per punt) and tied for seventh in the conference in punts landing inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Gillan was honored with the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month Award for September and AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts in Week 2, when he landed five punts inside the 20-yard line in a 23-3 win at the New York Jets.
“There's a lot of improvements in a lot of different areas if we continue to bring young men in here that love the game of football and like playing special teams,” Priefer said. “There's unique people who play that. You have to have something wrong with you if you're going to go cover a kickoff or punt and people say you have to have something wrong with you if you're going to coach special teams.”
Seibert was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft after playing his college ball at the University of Oklahoma, and despite inconsistent performances during the offseason program, training camp and the preseason, he won the job over second-year incumbent Greg Joseph.
During the regular season, Seibert converted all 15 of his field goal attempts under 40 yards and held a nine-of-12 mark between 40 and 49 yards. On attempts of at least 50 yards, Seibert went one for two.
Overall, Seibert converted 25 of his 29 field goal attempts (86.2 percent) and 30 of his 35 extra point tries (85.7 percent) to go along with 30 touchbacks on 75 kickoffs with one punt on a fake that travelled 37 yards and landed inside the 20-yard line.
“The good thing is they've made enough plays to encourage you to say, you know what, they can do it,” Priefer said. “It's there. It's in them. Now, we've got to continue to improve our technique, be more consistent and be a more productive unit across the board.”