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News & Notes: Priefer says special teams 'just have to play better' to meet the expected standard

Priefer: ‘We take a lot of pride in special teams with the Cleveland Browns’

Mike Priefer wasn't in the mood for sugarcoating Thursday.

The Browns special teams coordinator made it clear he hasn't been pleased with the performance of his various units through the first two games. Simply put, he's expecting much better Sunday against the Washington Football Team.

"It is not even close to be honest with you," Priefer said. "We are not playing at the expectation level that obviously I have set for this unit or the guys have set for themselves. We take a lot of pride in special teams with the Cleveland Browns."

Kickoff coverage has been the biggest issue so far, as Cleveland ranks second-to-last in the NFL after allowing returns of 45 and 42 yards last week to the Bengals. Another one of the Browns' kickoffs sailed out of bounds, resulting in a punishing illegal procedure penalty.

Priefer cited a variety of issues plaguing the coverage units, which feature a mix of core special teamers from last year and a handful of new players in new roles. Last year, the Browns finished fifth in the NFL in kickoff coverage.

"We have not covered kickoffs with the same speed and tenacity that we did a year ago. We have lost leverage where we did not lose leverage last year. We have not tackled well, like we tackled well a year ago," Priefer said. "Does that mean we need some reps under our belt before we get going? That is no excuse. Everybody is in the same boat. No one had preseason games last year so we will never use that as an excuse. We just have to play better. We have to play faster. We have to play more aggressive. 

"We have to do the little things better than we have obviously been doing thus far in order to be a weapon for this football team."

On the flip side, the Browns, through no fault of their own, have not been able to return a kickoff. JoJo Natson has been able to return two punts for a combined 13 yards, while the Browns have allowed 26 yards on a combined four returns.

Cleveland made a change at kicker after Austin Seibert missed a field goal and extra point in the season opener. Veteran Cody Parkey nailed all five of his extra points and did not attempt a field goal in last week's win over the Bengals. 

"We have our challenges, but like anything else, I have always had the philosophy that you just go back to work. You keep working," Priefer said. "You get the guys that you have and you get them better. They have a great attitude. They have had a good week of practice thus far this week. We plan on getting after Washington. Although they are very good, we plan on having our best game of the season so far."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Washington Football Team

Injury Update

T Jack Conklin and CB Kevin Johnson saw their respective workloads increase at Thursday's practice. Both were listed as full participants after being limited Wednesday.

Conklin was active but didn't play in last week's game against the Bengals. Johnson missed nearly a month of practice and the team's first two games after suffering a liver laceration during the early part of training camp.

CB Denzel Ward (groin) was a new addition to the injury report and was a limited participant.

DEs Olivier Vernon (abdomen) and Adrian Clayborn (hip) and LB Jacob Phillips (knee) did not participate for a second consecutive day.

Ronnie Watch

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods praised new S Ronnie Harrison Jr. and said he expects to utilize the former Jaguars playmaker more in the coming weeks.

Harrison, acquired from Jacksonville in a trade one week before the start of the season, played two snaps in the season opener and six in last week's game against Cincinnati.

"That dude practices with his hair on fire," Woods said. "I was in there taking snaps as scout team quarterback, and man, he was scaring me in terms of what he was doing. He brings that type of presence to our defense, but you do not want to put him on the field until you feel like he knows enough to have success because if he goes out there and he is not comfortable and does not execute, now you are kind of working backward. 

"He will be in the picture more this week and the upcoming weeks, but we definitely want to put him in there based on what we know he can handle."

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