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News & Notes: Browns put 'big emphasis' on onside kick hands team

Cleveland’s needed that group to come up big on multiple occasions this season

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made one thing clear Friday: The Browns don't just show up on Sundays expecting to fall on every onside kick that comes their way.

Just like everything else that happens on the football field, assembling and working an onside kick recovery team, better known as a "hands team," takes time, practice and analysis. So far, the Browns have done their job, recovering every onside kick that's been attempted against them this season. It only takes one, though, to change the course of a game, and that's why it's a part of the game that gets addressed every week in practice.

"I tell our guys we spend more time than anybody," Priefer said. "I don't know if we do, I am sure a lot of coaches spend as much time as we do, but it is a big emphasis for us especially because of who we are and how we are built all the close games that we are in and how important that play is." 

The Browns have had to recover onside kicks in three of their nine victories this season. They had to do it twice against the Titans, with LB Malcolm Smith securing the first and FB Andy Janovich corralling the second.

"Those are two tough kicks and (Titans K Stephen Gostkowski) is really good at that," Priefer said. "We knew it was coming. We had practiced it during the week and that is kind of his specialty, what he does best, and he executed two nice kicks and our guys did a good job recovering them."  

Priefer said he and members of the hands team watch cut-ups of the upcoming kicker's previous onside kicks leading up to a game. Then, they drill it on the practice field until they have a firm grasp of what they can expect.

The opportunities don't always present themselves, but the Browns have been ready when they have.

Injury Update

CB Denzel Ward (calf) and WR KhaDarel Hodge (hamstring) did not practice for a second consecutive day but coach Kevin Stefanski said both players were making progress. Ward has missed the past two games while Hodge was sidelined last week at Tennessee.

TE Austin Hooper (neck) was added to the injury report Friday and did not practice.

G Wyatt Teller is "right where we need to be," in terms of coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list in time for Monday's game, Stefanski said. Teller was placed on the list Tuesday.

No Hesitation

Priefer said he wouldn't hesitate to run another fake punt even though the team has not attempted one since Week 1, when it failed to convert on one in the first quarter of the Browns' loss to the Ravens.

"We felt like we had a great opportunity there, and if the punter stays outside, he might have run all the way to Cleveland because we had a nice wall set up, and it should have been a big play for us and we made a mistake," Priefer said. "We have punt fakes in every week. We are always going to be ready for the right situation, and whenever the head coach wants us to dial them up, we better be ready to dial them up." 

The play was among the many that went the wrong way on special teams for the Browns in their season-opening loss at Baltimore. Priefer said he recently re-watched the game and it put him in a bad mood.

The Browns' special teams have come a long way in the weeks since.

"At the end of the day, I think we have grown," Priefer said. "I think we have gotten a lot better. We have a lot of confidence. These young players have stepped up and played much better in coverage phases."

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