3. Special teams look more special
One area where the Browns really struggled in 2018 was in the special teams department. There were careless penalties, poor returns, blocking whiffs, and missed tackles by the coverage unit. Their shortcomings were summed up by Jeff Schudel of The News-Herald following the firing of former special teams coordinator Amos Jones.
"“The Browns special teams were among the worst in the league. Two punts were blocked. A blocked field goal attempt by Zane Gonzalez in overtime in the season opener forced the Browns to settle for a 21-21 tie with the Steelers. Gonzalez missed four kicks in a 21-18 loss to the Saints a week later.” — Schudel, The News-Herald"
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Jones was replaced by Mike Priefer, who spent the past eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. During his tenure, they seemed cursed in the kicking department but they were strong in every other category including the return game. Thursday night’s game will be his first with Cleveland and even though they won’t have their top special teams players out there all night, they should look much more cohesive — especially when running the ball back.
Both Dontrell Hilliard and Antonio Callaway should get a shot to take some kicks back. Out of the two, expect Hilliard to really take advantage of the opportunity. He’s been a star in training camp and that could easily carry over into this game.
Of course, there’s more to the success of special teams than just returns. Look for the Browns to also have a strong outing from their rookie punter Jamie Gillan. While he has to work on things such as directional kicks and holding for the field goal kicker, Gillan (better known as ‘The Scottish Hammer’) has been incredible with his hang time.
When he gets a chance to go out there and unleash one, expect the ball to travel far and hang in the sky for a long time. Britton Colquitt is a savvy vet, but this kid won’t make it easy on him.