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Browns looking to put the special back in special teams

Team overhauled the unit this offseason in an attempt to get things back on track after a dismal 2021 season.

Cleveland Browns Rookie Minicamp Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns special teams were anything but special in 2021.

Cleveland ended up ranked at No. 30 overall in Rick Gosselin’s annual review of the league’s units, and No. 32 in field goals and field goal percentage.

General manager Andrew Berry took a hammer to the unit in the offseason by signing punter Corey Bojorquez and kick returned Jakeem Grant Sr. in free agency and selecting placekicker Cade York in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer met with the media this past week during Organized Team Activities and had high praise for York: (quote via a team-provided transcript):

“To me, the sky is the limit. He can be really, really good. I am excited about him. He is the right guy. He is the right guy for our stadium, for our city and for the division that we play in.”

While Priefer is excited about York, he did emphasize that the rookie needs to work on kickoffs this summer to learn the nuances required at the NFL level:

“I just think we have to refine exactly how we want certain kicks kicked. He has to understand this is not college football where they just like to bombs away and kick touchbacks because we are not like that. We are going to have a time when we need touchbacks, but we have hang kickoffs, we have liners, we have squibs, we have borders, we have surprise onside and we have must onside so it is a whole different bunch of clubs in his bag that he needs to get good at, and that is the stuff that he really needs to work on because he really never did it in college, but he has the ability to do so.”

It might be a bit of a low bar to clear given the state of the kicking game for the Browns the past few seasons, but the Browns are going to need York to be on top of his game from Week 1 given the close nature of many NFL games. (A lesson the Browns learned far too well last season.)

There is probably no need to worry about a lack of confidence from Grant, who is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 2021. With six career touchdowns on kick returns (four on punts and two on kickoffs), Grant wants to take it to the next level by returning more than four punts for touchdowns this upcoming season, as he told Anthony Poisal at clevelandbrowns.com:

“Whenever I return, I’m trying to change the statistics. I want the percentage of scoring a touchdown this year to go through the roof. I want people to be like, ‘Oh, not even Devin (Hester) scored this many touchdowns in a season.’ That’s the goal of mine this year — to score more than four touchdowns on punt returns.

“That’s how I am. To be a returner, you have to have some insanity. That’s what I pride myself on. I’m just trying to do things that people aren’t bold enough to do.”

Even if he does not hit his goal, Grant brings a dynamic to the return game that the Browns have been lacking for quite a while.

Things have not gone well for the Browns on special teams in recent years, but the offseason additions of York, Grant and Bojorquez may have the unit finally heading in the right direction.