Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – November 11, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

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What kind of captures your attention when you look at the Rams and the units they put out there?

“What captures my attention with the Rams, obviously they’re led by [Los Angeles Rams special teams coordinator] Joe DeCamillis who’s a veteran, really good special teams coach in this league. But when you look at their players and obviously I know [Los Angeles Rams head coach] Sean [McVay], we worked with Sean and those guys are detailed, really good coaches. When I look at their players, obviously [Los Angeles Rams P] Johnny Hekker has done a really nice job for them over the years. He makes it tough to get returned. They’re sixth in the NFL right now in punt coverage and are doing a nice job with that. Their gunners are doing a really nice job. So is their interior. [Los Angeles Rams K] Matt Gay, who is the kicker, he does a nice job. Their specialists are playing really well right now. Obviously you guys know he went to college with [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky] and was drafted when Mitch was drafted. He’s a really good, young player. He’s doing a nice job for them on field goals and on kickoffs. And then they’ve got a really good core. In terms of the guys that they had, they’ve got a couple of young guys that they drafted. Some of those guys are hurt right now. Like obviously [Los Angeles Rams WR] Tutu [Atwell] is hurt, but 18, [Los Angeles Rams WR] Ben [Skowronek] he’s a really good player. Number 44, [Los Angeles Rams LB] Jamir [Jones] is a really good player. So they present some challenges just like all units. But we’re really excited about the challenge. We’re excited to implement our plan and go to work against these guys on Monday Night Football. It’s going to be a great challenge for us and I think our guys are really ready to showcase what they can do. And that’s what we’re excited about.”

With Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel there for so long, they were known for doing a lot of the trick stuff with Hekker, specifically. Do you see signs of some of that stuff still or how much do you still kind of have to be aware of it even though he’s not there anymore?

“Yeah, anytime Hekker’s back there, he can throw the football. I mean, he’s completed 13 out of his last 22 attempts. He’s really good at that. They tried one earlier this year as well. So even though Fassel’s not there they’ve thrown the football this year. We have to be prepared for any type of fake at any time any week, anybody we play. But obviously they’ve done a lot in their career and with Fassel at the Rams and then Joe De has done it quite a bit in his career as well. So we’ve got a whole cut up on coordinators. We usually take them back as far as we could take them to non HD if we’ve got them even from 2007 and we watch all of the specials and everything they’ve done over the years. And obviously you have to cut that out and trim it down and give the players what they need to get prepared. But us as coaches, coach [assistant special teams coach Matthew] Harper does a hell of a job with that stuff. And coach [special teams quality control coach August] Mangin does as well, cut all that stuff and pull all that stuff. And I still have some that I collected from when I started. So we’ve got a pretty good file, but we still have to be prepared for anything they throw at us.”

On the same token, you guys haven’t run any fake special teams plays this year. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you have in the last few years. Is there an urge to, I mean, when you’re in a losing streak, is there an urge to maybe try some more things and be more experimental at practice to see what works in case you do need to change the momentum of a game in that way?

“Yeah, we always have in, I think every coach in the league always has them in and up every week. But it also goes to what look are you getting and if you can take advantage of something. I think guys get in trouble when they run fakes just to run them. You know, there has to be a structure that you’re looking at. You have to make sure that you can get it or have a high percentage chance of getting it or is your offense better and do they take over that? Which our offense has been really good here over the years and still good. I mean, it’s still good. So we haven’t had the need to do that a ton. I think if that answers your question.”

Without being specific, have there been instances where you had a fake in but didn’t run it because you didn’t get the look?

“Sure. Yeah. They’re always, just like on offense or defense, there’s always plays in that you have that you could can or check out of or whatever if you have a look and we thought we had a look and didn’t have a look and guys get out of it. That’s happened several times. Yeah. And that’s why you’ve got to have your guys in there trained that know how to recognize looks. And I think for us, we’ve got a lot of different PPs that can recognize that. And I can point out just [CB] Dontae Johnson and a consummate pro he’s being throughout this. And he’s very smart and he knows how to look at those things and we trust him a ton.”

What have you seen from WR Brandon Aiyuk’s 27-yard return last week and do you kind of see that there are going to be more opportunities like that in the future? Just the way that unit is meshing together?

“Yeah. Again, every week’s a new week. I’m really happy with the job that they did on that particular play, but there’s always more and there’s always room for improvement. And that’s what I’m always going to push these guys to do. But on that particular play, [WR] Trent Sherfield and [RB] Trenton Cannon had a double team down at the bottom on the left gunner and they did a phenomenal job eliminating that gunner from the play. Up top you had Dontae Johnson and [CB] Ambry Thomas working together on that play to get those gunners stopped on the right side. And Ambry had a beautiful what we call a hip by down the field, basically like a high screen block where he put his hands up and didn’t block the guy in the back. You know, he did the right thing. You don’t want to block in the back and bring that ball back. So he did just like the league coaches it and wants us to do how they coach the coaches to do it. And I was proud that the players did it in that situation. Another guy that you want to point out on that play, I mean, I know Aiyuk gets the credit on it, but [TE] Charlie Woerner did a heck of a job coming down the field and recognizing what we call turn and burn. When there’s nobody in front of you, you want to turn and burn up the field and create a convoy. And [WR] Jauan Jennings had an outstanding effort blocking the wing on that play. So there were a ton of guys, [LB] Marcell [Harris] did the same thing Ambry did and didn’t get called for a penalty. He did the right technique in that situation. When you’re in the trail position, you want to do a hip by and make sure you just screen the guy right in front of him. And then Aiyuk did the rest. He caught the ball, really caught it square, got around the edge. Outstanding explosive play for him, really needed that play after the defense, Mitch pinned them at the 11-yard line and then the defense went three-and-out and in that play to the plus 36-yard line of Arizona and we ended up getting points out of that drive. So Aiyuk’s coming into his own, but so are his blockers and they’re getting a chance to feel the way he returns. And those guys are trying to the best as they can to mesh together. And we’ve just got to get even better. So yeah, it was a good play, but we want to try to put it in the end zone.”