CLEVELAND — Be it penalties that brought back long runs, lapses in coverage, missed tackles or errant kicks, the Cleveland Browns’ special-teams units had their fair share of struggles throughout the 2018 regular season.
But that was the past, and new coordinator Mike Priefer plans on building upon his proven track record of success in the NFL and turn the Browns’ special-teams coverage and returns units into the best in the league.
“I am not sure how bad they were last year,” Priefer said in his introductory press conference last week. “I know that they had their moments that they were pretty good, and in other moments, they were not as good. When I first got to Minnesota, they were okay, and we were pretty good right off the bat.”
A 17-year NFL coaching veteran, Priefer served eight seasons as Minnesota’s special-teams coordinator (2011-2018). Prior to joining the Vikings’ staff, Priefer held the special-teams coordinator position with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.
Priefer began his NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars as their assistant special-teams coordinator before joining the New York Giants (2003-2005) in a similar capacity.
Since Priefer joined the NFL ranks, his teams have been known for their big-play potential. His special-teams units have accounted for 26 scores (12 on kickoffs, nine on punt returns, three blocked punts, one mishandled fake field goal attempt and a safety).
Priefer’s teams have blocked 23 kicks (nine punts, nine field goals, five PAT tries) since 2002.
After Priefer’s arrival in Minnesota, the Vikings had the most special-teams touchdowns in the NFL (seven on kickoff returns, five on punt returns and two blocked punts).
“You need to have players that love the game of football,” Priefer said. “I am going to tell these young guys when they get into the building here in April that ‘You can’t be a good special-teams player unless you are passionate about the game of football.’
“‘If you are just out there for a paycheck, you are out there just to get by’ or you are out there, ‘Hey, I only want to play linebacker or running back. Then, first of all, you are not going to help our team win and you are certainly not going to help us on special teams. If you have a passion about football, and if you love the game, then I think you have a chance if you are good enough.’”
To Priefer, being passionate about football is more than just showing up on game day and putting in three hours’ worth of effort. It is an every-day commitment to doing what is necessary throughout the week to be ready for the games.
“We are going to play penalty-free football,” Priefer said. “We are going to play fast. We are going to play physical. We are going to play disciplined. We are going to play with enthusiasm and passion. We are going to help our football team win games.
“Our role is to go out there and be a weapon in all six phases, including field goal and field goal block. Be a weapon, play great complementary football, and at the end of the day, let’s hope we win the game. That is where our mentality is going to be as we train these young men.”