Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – October 20, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

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 What kind of problems do the Colts present you guys this week?

“They’re a good unit. Play good football. They have two good returners, really three good returners. They’ve got three 4.3 returners, which anytime you’ve got speed like that, it always presents a problem. [Indianapolis Colts RB] Nyheim Hines is a good punt returner. He has two career touchdowns in his career. [Indianapolis Colts CB] Isaiah Rodgers is a good kick returner. He’s obviously been to the house before on kickoff return and then they’ve got the other kid is 16, [Indianapolis Colts WR Ashton] Dulin who is a straight line, good, tough physical 4.3, big body, good football player. We’re excited about going against these guys. They’re a good unit, but all teams and all units in the league are good. Some better than others, but this is a good challenge for us and really excited about going to practice today and really excited about putting our plan in and going to work against these guys.”

When you did your self-scout over the Bye, what did you see that you liked and what are some things that maybe you feel like need to be hammered out?

“In our self-scout over the Bye, I thought we were pretty balanced. We’re doing some good things. There are always areas that you can improve in. It’s just like anything, if you’re ever complacent or you’re ever thinking that you’ve got it, in this league you don’t ever have anything. So there are a number of areas we want to improve in. Obviously we want to try to generate some more explosive plays in the return game and we want to continue to try to be really good on kickoff coverage and punk coverage. I think [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky] has done an outstanding job so far helping us with that. But some areas we want to definitely get attacked and that’s having some more explosive plays in the return game.”

You stuck with RB Trenton Cannon against the Cardinals after he had some issues against the Seahawks. Obviously he didn’t get a chance to return, but what went into that decision to stick with him?

“Just the same thing I said last time. We’re always going to go with who we feel like gives us the best opportunity to win at that moment. And we have confidence in several guys on our roster in terms of returning. [WR] Deebo [Samuel] was back there as well on one of those. And he didn’t get an opportunity to return either. So we are always going to go with the guy that gives us the best opportunity. And at that particular time we felt like Cannon gave us the best opportunity.”

WR Travis Benjamin obviously is a pretty decorated punt returner throughout his career. Why was he not returning punts?

“Yeah, so [WR] Brandon [Aiyuk] was returning punts against the Cardinals and we felt like at that time he gave us the best chance to win. And we still have a lot of confidence in Travis. I love Travis. Like you said, he has been decorated in his career early in his career with four punt return touchdowns. So Travis is an option. He’s always an option and glad he’s an option. And I’ve got a lot of confidence in Travis and I think everyone does just like they have a lot of confidence in Brandon.”

How do you evaluate Brandon’s performance as a punt returner and his potential as a punt returner?

“I evaluate his punt return potential as limitless. He’s explosive. He’s dynamic. He’s fast. You guys know that. He’s done a decent job so far, he’s done a good job so far. A lot of times with punt return you have to see if the guys are giving them a chance to return the ball as well. So again, explosive, I talked about explosive returns earlier that has to do with blocking too. We’ve got to make sure we give him space. And he’s a tough runner. He’s broken some tackles, he’s a tough kid. So I’ve been pleased with Brandon so far. But again, Brandon has got to take his game to another level as a part returner, and he wants to do that. I mean, I think when we talk about all 53 players or anybody that’s playing special teams, we’re trying to push all these guys to take their game to another level. So again, it’s never, complacency kills with me. We’re going to push these guys. We’re going to coach the heck out of them. And we’re going to try to do as best we can to get great field position for our offense, great field position for the defense.”

How does the probability of rain affect your preparation or if it doesn’t change your preparation, what do you say to your guys about how to perform in that situation?

“Obviously we addressed it, we addressed it in the meeting room. But there is a chance of rain and it’s something that we always constantly monitor. I think special teams, coaches probably monitor that more than most coaches because you know, we have to deal with kicking and wind and if you can call a certain call a certain way, if the ball will still travel the right way if you’re kicking into the wind versus kicking with the wind. So in your question, in terms of rain, you do different things and hopefully we get rain here, but if you don’t, then you try to simulate those things in practice. And you just talk to the guys about how the game changes. There’s going to be more opportunities, usually, when there’s rain or wind, there’ll be more opportunities for special teams plays. So we’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity we get and we’re looking forward to playing on Sunday night. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

In your experience, the games after Byes, do you find players have more energy, or is it the opposite effect that they need a little kick to get going again?

“Yeah, I think I can just speak to the current situation we’re in. I mean, our guys came out with really good energy after the Bye. They’ve been really attentive in meetings. They’ve been really good in walk-through today. You can feel that they’ve been away from football and they’re ready get back into it and they want to play, which is really good. You could tell that they studied a lot of tape when you ask them questions today. So my experience has always been, I think it’s a credit to the guys that we have that [general manager] John [Lynch] and [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] have brought here. My experience here is that these guys have always been ready to play ball and that’s what fires me up about a coach. Today I was fired up in the meeting and I’m fired up to go to practice because we’ve got a heck of an opportunity to go out there and play and just can’t wait to play on Sunday night.”

Is Deebo Samuel a weapon you could use on special teams like in a key moment, maybe as a kick returner? It seems like he has that skill set.

“Yeah, he’s been back there in key moments, definitely. Deebo had four kick returns to the house in college, in the SEC, which is hard to do. But obviously Deebo is one of our top receivers. So you just have to be smart with that type of situation. It’s not something that he does full-time for us or anything like that because he’s really playing well on offense. I’m happy to see him doing what he’s doing. I’m sure they’ve got things that they talk to Deebo about. But I mean, from what I see, and I don’t study offensive tape a ton, but I see him making some plays. So in key situations, yeah. And Kyle’s been awesome. So credit to Kyle on that and when he wants Deebo back there, he’ll let me know and we’ll put him back there and I couldn’t give more credit to our head coach on that. He’s been awesome with that when we need a play.”

Where can LB Mychal Kendricks help you and where does he want to help you?

“I think Mychal Kendricks when he was here earlier and then even now, his attitude’s been great, he’s willing to help. He wants to help. He is a guy that has really good speed, and he plays fast. So he’s a guy that can definitely help us depending on where his role falls defensively this week. But he’s ready. He’s been in there today at walk-through, he’s asking questions. He’s ready to go. So I’m excited to have Michael back here. He’s a guy with some speed and some size and some physicality and you always need those things, especially when you’re going against returners and players that can really run.”

We’ve seen K Robbie Gould talking to K Joey Slye quite a bit during practices. What has that relationship been like?

“Yeah, it’s been awesome. Robbie is a consummate pro, as you know, and he always wants to help everybody. He’s been helping. He’s been doing a really good job helping everyone. He’s been talking to Joey, like you said, he’s been trying to help Joey. He always tries to help Mitch or [LS Taybor Pepper] Pep or any of the younger players. It’s kind of what veterans do. Especially a guy that’s been in league as long as he has and we welcome his help. He does a good job with that stuff and Robbie wants to win just as bad as anybody. So I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s been carrying himself and how he’s attacking his rehab.”