Austin Seibert’s warmup session in Denver was seen by only a handful of people lingering around the stadium hours before kickoff. That’s par for the course before any game in any city.
Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, obviously, was one of them. He came away confident as ever his rookie kicker would have a big day.
“He had a really good pregame. He actually, off the sticks, hit a 68-yard field goal, which I have never seen before,” Priefer said Thursday. “When we were practicing with the group, the holder/snapper in pregame, he hit a 63-yarder. So I think he was feeling good about it.”
Seibert didn’t need that big leg on any of his attempts on this particular day — just the accuracy. He came through all four times — all in the second quarter — to move to a perfect 14-for-14 on the season. He needed a friendly bounce from the uprights on his extra point to post a fully clean sheet for the day, but those are the kinds of things you’ll see when a kicker is performing as well as Seibert.
Seibert, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma, is one of four kickers in the league who has yet to miss a field goal attempt. The Browns haven’t attempted a kick longer than 48 yards because the situation hasn’t presented itself. As he displayed before last week’s game and throughout the preseason, when he made a 54-yarder in Tampa, Seibert has the leg.
Now, as the weather turns in Cleveland, the focus shifts to how Seibert and the rest of the Browns’ kicking battery handles the adverse conditions. That’s meant plenty of time spent at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the Browns will be for four of the next five weeks starting Sunday against the Bills.
“That is our living room,” Priefer said. “That is where we play and we got to have that confidence when we go down there no matter what the weather is that we are going to be prepared for it. And we are going to use any weather — good weather, bad weather, rainy, cold, snowing, wind — we are going to use that to our advantage. It is going to be home-field advantage and we are going to be the confident group going in.”
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Bills Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
— Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks expressed confidence in the players who could be poised for bigger roles Sunday because of injuries to starters.
At safety, the Browns are without Jermaine Whitehead, who was waived Monday, and are likely to be missing Eric Murray for a second straight week. Damarious Randall, who missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, returned to practice this week, but others, such as Juston Burris and rookie Sheldrick Redwine, could be called upon for more extensive work.
“You are looking at Morgan (Burnett) as well as Randall starting back there,” Wilks said. “I think Juston Burris has done a tremendous job when he has stepped up and played as well. It is an opportunity for Redwine to step up and play for us so I am excited about the guys that we have back there and I am not worried at all that they are not going to get the job done.”
The Browns could also be without Pro Bowl veteran defensive end Olivier Vernon, who suffered a knee injury against the Broncos. That would open the door for players such as Chris Smith and second-year end Chad Thomas to fill the void. Thomas, in particular, has been a solid member of Cleveland’s rotation one season after rarely seeing the field.
“It starts really in the run game,” Wilks said. “I think he does a tremendous job playing the six-technique. That is going to be a major emphasis for us this week in this run game. Really being physical with the tight ends trying to penetrate and knock the guy out back off the ball and I think he has been decent in the pass rush. He is quick off the ball and he has great acceleration.”
— Priefer said Tavierre Thomas had been “campaigning for weeks” to return kicks, and he finally got the opportunity in Denver.
Priefer liked what he saw, though, from one of Cleveland’s top special teams players. Thomas, the fifth Browns player to return a kick this season, averaged 28.5 yards on his two returns, but one of those came from a little too deep into the end zone for Priefer’s liking.
“I think everybody in the room saw how explosive he was coming out of the end zone, even though one was 7 yards deep,” Priefer said. “We got to kind of reign that in a little bit. He is aggressive. He is trying to make a play and I know Dontrell (Hilliard) has had a good year. I think he is one of the league leaders in kickoff return average, but we are always trying to improve, we are always trying to get better, we are always trying to figure out what our next option is, what the best option is and we will continue using Dontrell back there as well.”