Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – September 15, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

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WR Brandon Aiyuk took one return and then you went to WR Mohamed Sanu Sr.. Why the change?

“Yeah. Everything we do is situational and gameplan. So, we’re looking at the best situation for that particular situation. Things are always thought out, they’re always calculated in terms of what is our opponent doing? What are their tendencies? What area of the field are we on? Are you going to get a huge return? Are you not? So, some of those things go into play. So, hopefully he’ll get a lot more opportunities this week. There really weren’t many opportunities last week. So, we’re looking forward to that and looking forward to this week.”

How did CB Ambry Thomas do?

“Ambry Thomas played gunner for us. He played on the vice for us or corner for us. Then obviously he played kick returner as well. So, he played kickoff and he did okay. It was the first game for him, that’s a tough opponent for him to go against. Detroit is a really good special teams unit. I don’t care what their record was last year. They were a good unit. They were a top-10 unit in most polls and some poles they were top-five. So that is a tough opponent for him to go against. There is a lot of room to grow, a lot of improvement to be had across the board. So, I’m still excited about Ambry and he’s up for the challenge. He was in here yesterday bright and early wanting to get better. And it’s been that way every day. And we’ll see this week. Hoping he makes a jump this week.”

You’ve gone between P Mitch Wishnowsky and K Robbie Gould on kickoffs. What goes into the thought process there and what do each of them bring?

“Yeah, same thing. Situationally it depends on what we’re doing that game as far as the gameplan and what we see on tape and what we think we can take advantage of. I thought our guys did a heck of a job covering. I thought those guys did a really good job kicking off as well when they had their opportunity. And we’ll just look at that, obviously, week to week and we’ll always take a look and see what’s going to give us the best chance to win and what’s going to give us the best chance to set our defense up with good field position so we can take advantage of every opportunity we get.”

What kind of confidence boost was it to have Robbie kick the 52-yarder and make it after missing from the same distance?

“Yeah. You guys know Robbie. It’s definitely a confidence booster for him, for the whole team, for everybody. But you guys know he works as hard as anyone and we always preach resilience and that’s what we want throughout all our players, all the players that we have. So, I was really excited to see us get that exact kick in that exact same spot and us deliver on that for the team. That was outstanding. And again, I tell these guys all the time, it’s not what happens to you. It’s really how you react and how you respond. So, you always have the chance to respond. You’d like to have a chance to respond, but if you go around sulking about the first thing that happens, then you miss out on your second opportunity. And I think that’s in life as well.”

The only time you guys get seem to get stung on a kickoff return is when a guy returns it out of the end zone. Why not just kick it into the end zone and take it at the 25-yard line every time?

“Yeah, it depends. I think a lot of times, a lot of people try to get it out of the back of the end zone. And we’ve had times when we’re trying to get it out the back of the end zone. We have times when it doesn’t go out the back of the end zone. And I think guys will try to kick it out the back of the end zone. We don’t really tell our opponents or give away a competitive advantage when we’re doing it or when we’re not doing it. But yeah, people say that all the time and then people will tackle them inside the 10 and say, why don’t you kick it in play all the time, if you can tackle them inside the 10. You would love to kick it out the back every time, but it just unfortunately doesn’t happen all the time.”

And Mitch Wishnowsky gives you a better chance to do that?

“Robbie can do it too. Yeah, Robbie had four touchbacks last game. Yeah. So, they both can do it.”

 With punts and kicks, what different skillsets are there for returners?

“So, kickoff in my personal opinion and I think most player’s personal opinions, maybe even in league circles, kickoffs are a lot easier to catch because they’re end over end and they typically come down the same way. Punts, they vary a lot like the spin on them. And if you’re playing a left-footed punter versus a right-foot punter. Is it spinning to the right? Is it spinning to the left? Does he have banana balls where he could start one way and kick it the other way? Does he have balls that go up and drop and fall down? So, it’s just really that the flight of the ball is a lot harder to catch on punts than it is on kickoffs. You know you’ve got a confident guy when he wants to do both. You’ll get some kick returners that you ask them, you say, ‘Hey, can you catch punts too?’ And they’ll be ‘I can try coach. I can try.’ So those are the differences. It’s really the flight of the ball and different distances. Kickoff, you can just stand at the goal line, so punt you could be 40, you could be 50, you could be running back, it’s just a lot harder.”

A lot of your guys fly under the radar, like coverage-team guys. Who graded out particularly well or was stellar against Detroit that maybe you were a little worried about?

“I think guys do fly under the radar a lot when it comes to special teams. I think that special teams in general is all about field position and helping take advantage. So, if you want to say a guy that probably stood out what you guys can see it was [DL] Samson [Ebukam] last week. He had the tackle at the 10-yard line. He had two tackles in the ballgame. We’ve been really pleased with Samson. He’s done everything we wanted him to do. When he came here, we thought he would be a good defensive player. We really thought he would be a great special teams player and a really great defensive player. Everything we thought he was, he is. And we’re happy that we have him and [WR Trent] Sherfield is the same way. So those two guys, the personnel department did a heck of a job finding those guys and those guys are living up to what we thought they would bring to the table. So that’s been awesome.”

 Is that unusual to have a guy like Ebukam, a defensive end, do some of the stuff he’s doing?

“It depends on different teams. Some teams I’ve been on you have those guys. It depends if you’re a 3-4 team, if you’re a 4-3 team, what body type that guy is. You typically don’t have a ton of defensive lineman that could help, but if you have one or two that can help, that really can help your units out for sure. And especially one like Samson. He’s been doing it. And it’s not like I’m saying anything that Samson hadn’t been doing when he was at the [Los Angeles] Rams. I quite honestly was sick of blocking him and Sherfield, so now they’re over here.”