Cleveland Browns: Special teams unit could be elite in 2020

The Cleveland Browns special teams unit made major improvements in 2019. Will the Browns’ special teams be able to reach elite status in 2020?

The Cleveland Browns special teams were able to climb from the bottom of the league in 2018 up to the top half in 2019. Considering they chose to go with both a rookie kicker as well as a punter, the improvements were a very pleasant surprise. Although, the biggest change to the special teams unit wasn’t a player in 2019.

The former regime, the tag-team tandem of John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens, did many regrettable things in 2018; bringing in Mike Priefer to be the special teams’ coordinator was not among them. Priefer came into a mess on special teams, the Browns team he inherited was considered by many to be one of the worst units in the NFL. Most notably the coverage units.

Countless times in previous years the Browns would score a touchdown, to either take the lead or get themselves back in contention, only to give up a big return and concede momentum back to their opponents. It was truly a vicious cycle.

Priefer supplied the discipline and accountability the coverage units had lacked under the previous coaching staff. Players stayed in their lanes, didn’t over pursue, and most importantly made their tackles. Finally, sound fundamental football was back in the special teams’ room in Berea.

KhaDarel Hodge and Tavierre Thomas both proved to be excellent gunners and held down their positions. Rookies Sheldrick Redwine and Sione Takitaki, among others, provided lane integrity and prevented any big returns. With all the key contributors from 2019 returning, this could be a huge year for the coverage units.

The continuity continues at both kicker and punter. In last year’s training camp, there was a pretty close competition at both positions. Austin Seibert battled Greg Joseph in a neck and neck kicker competition, that in the end was decided by the fact that Dorsey spent a draft pick on Seibert as much as it was competition. The decision did not disappoint, as Seibert was very solid in his rookie year and will be looking to build on that in 2020.

The punting competition was a bit different, as undrafted rookie Jamie Gillan was taking on the incumbent, veteran Britton Colquitt. Gillan displayed a huge leg and tremendous athleticism for a punter, but he had an uphill battle as he had never held for a kicker in his short career. In the end, Gillan was able to get up to speed fast enough to convince the coaching staff that he was the man for the job.

Gillan, the “Scottish Hammer” as he is fondly referred to, had a tremendous rookie campaign that even included an AFC special teams’ player of the month award in September. The sky is the limit for both the Scottish Hammer’s punts as well as his career.

The last remaining piece the special teams need to address is finding a return man to take over the duties full-time. In 2019, the Browns gave many players the opportunity to return kicks and punts, but none of the candidates grabbed the reigns and made the job their own. In 2020, Priefer and the Browns need to find the man for the job.

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If they can put that piece in place, the Browns’ special teams unit could reach the upper echelon of the NFL and dare I say…be truly special.