Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – November 3, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

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Do you expect your punter to have a full week of good sleep?

“Yeah, let’s hope so. I don’t know if he’ll get any sleep. Those are, you know, when you get new babies those babies cry at night and you’ve got to get up. You’ve got to get up to help mama.”

What was that like Sunday? How did you go into that game figuring about, you know, how you’d be using your punter?

“I’ll tell you what, we had a great plan in place there. Obviously we had guys that we felt could do it for us if we needed to. Our personnel department was always on top of that in terms of always having options. Those guys are phenomenal at that stuff. And then really it was a credit to [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky] because Mitch gave us the confidence because he is a type of guy that is a consummate pro. He communicated throughout the whole thing. I couldn’t say more about the way he handled that situation. An almost like take care of your wife, man. I’ll see, talk to you later type deal, but he did a good job of taking care of his wife, did a good job of just communicating with us and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy to actually be there. And of course we want him to be there for the birth of his child. He got a chance to do that and he got a chance to be there for his team. So he deserves that. I mean, he’s an awesome person. You guys that don’t really know him, and some of you got a chance to get to know him, but he’s an awesome guy. So I’m glad it happened to him that way. And luckily he didn’t have to punt. The offense took care of business there and that was a really good deal.”

You’ve also got a holder issue, like he’s the holder. Did you have that, backup plans there too?

“Yeah, sure. Backup plans there. Just like you saw when we needed him to kick in Seattle [FB Kyle Juszczyk] Juice held, so he’s a backup holder. But yeah, you could have holder issues as well, but Mitch did a great job there. He actually held extremely well in the ball game. So that was good too.”

Did he just come in on a commercial flight red eye Sunday morning to the hotel?

“He was there. I don’t know what type of fight he was on, but [director, operations] Michael slap and their crew, they do a phenomenal job getting that stuff done. And he was there. He was ready to go. Saw him that morning and communicated, you know, they kind of just told me, ‘Hey man, just go to sleep. Everything’s good. Focus on the game.’ And Mitch was there. We were good to go.”

You didn’t get a chance to see WR Brandon Aiyuk return punts a lot last year. This year, he’s obviously doing it more consistently. Are you noticing more of a comfort level with him? How much better is he getting week-to-week just in terms of seeing things returning punts?

“Yeah, he’s getting better and better. The maturation process applies to all positions, to all players. He’s getting better and better at that. I thought he did a really nice job of getting to that football and filled in that football. That was a really good sequence of plays us. We felt like the kickoff, obviously we were down there at 16-15, on the kickoff that we had there and got that stopped at the 16 yard line because that dude’s a dangerous dude. And then come out and we have the defense stopped them in five plays. They punted to us. Aiyuk had that explosive return, 21-yards out to midfield. And then the offense takes the ball six plays, 52 yards there and scores. And we take our first lead of the game, you know, 23-16. So that was a huge play by Aiyuk. And we’re seeing him get more and more comfortable. We’re seeing the blockers do a better job, but again, that’s one game. That’s over and we’re excited about it, but we’re really excited about playing against a division opponent this time for the second time. And you guys know how I am, whether win or lose, we move on to the next one and we try to play good football to help the football team. So that’s what our focus is now and that’s what our goal is.”

If Mitch couldn’t have gone, is there somebody that would have been able to punt? What would you do in that situation?

“Yeah, we have somebody able to punt. We’re always ready. I won’t tell you exactly what I would do in that situation for competitive reasons, but yeah, we always have backup punters, just like you have to have the backup safety on kickoff. Just like you have to have a backup five, you have to have a backup holder. You have to have a backup kicker. You have to go through all situations and scenarios, whether they come up or don’t come up, you have to make sure you’ve got a backup punter. You’ve got to have a backup long snapper as you guys saw last year when [OL] Justin Skule got in there and long snapped for us in the Giants game. I mean, those things you’ve got to continuously work on and go through. And we’ve got a great staff in coach [assistant special teams coach Matthew] Harper and coach [special teams quality control August] Mangin, and those guys bring up situations and we bring up situations back and forth. Sometimes I bring up crazy ones. They’ll tell me to throw out a down, that might not happen, you know, but we always try to go through every scenario possible because for us, we don’t get second down. We don’t get third down. We only get one down and we’ve got one down to be special. And if you mess up that one down, sometimes it’s magnified. So you want to make sure you go through every situation, every scenario, everything you get and try to have a backup plan for it.”

Do you have punting tryouts in training camp?

“We always have tryouts. But yeah, we do. We do.”

How is your preparation different when you’re facing a team that you saw recently, like a couple of weeks ago?

“We basically approach every game the same way, like it’s a new game. There are things that maybe you had in the last game that you maybe really liked and some things that you didn’t like. But the good thing about when you’re playing an opponent that you’re familiar with, things change from time to time, but you know you’ve got some type of idea what you will get. I try to go into every game like it’s a new game, to answer your question. And then just whatever information we have from a previous opponent or previously playing them, like when we played Green Bay a couple of times in a year, you use those things on the back end.”

We saw K Robbie Gould on the field a couple of hours before kickoff. How’s he looking? Is he ready to go?

“Yeah, I think he’s ready to go. You guys know Robbie. Robbie’s a consummate pro. Happy to have him back on the field and he knows how to take care of his body. He’s been doing it a long time. He’ll be ready to go.”