Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – September 22, 2021

San Francisco 49ers

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How did you guys feel in the special teams meeting room after a game like you guys had on Sunday?

“Obviously there are always things that you can correct. The guys did a heck of a job in that ball game, and I think they know that, but there’s always things that we can correct. And those are the things that we’re focused on getting better this week for Sunday Night Football versus Green Bay. But again, don’t want to take anything away from the guys. The guys played their tails off and they’re fired up, but they also realize that we’re just getting started and it’s just a stepping stone and that we need to, it’s a long season, so we need to make sure that we go out and try to help the team win this week.”

This may be a little bit obvious question, but when a guy like P Mitch Wishnowsky wins Special Teams Player of the Week, do you view that just as much as a kind of a compliment to the job everybody did not just the punter himself?

“Oh, for sure. I told those guys today, obviously coach had a team meeting and he obviously congratulated Mitch on that. And we told the guys in the room along with coach, ‘Hey, it’s a team award.’ And all the punt team is fired up for him on that. The gunners did a wonderful job going down there and beating their blocks, shooting their guns, basically downing balls. The protection did a nice job giving Mitch time to punt the ball so that he could drop us some good punts in there and flip the field for us and help our defense. So that was a really, really, it was a really good performance by the punt team. But still, when you look at the tape there are things we still need to clean up and that we want to clean up and want to get better for this week for the team.”

Is that kind of a unique thing where you guys claim a guy off waivers and three days later he’s playing? When you get a running back like RB Trenton Cannon, were you involved in like knowing exactly how you could use him on game day with very little preparation?

“Sure. We watched tape on Trenton with the personnel department. He’s always a guy that the personnel department has had an eye on along with R&D and [manager of football research and development] Demitrius [Washington] and their crew. They do a nice job with that stuff. We watch tape with [general manager] John [Lynch] and [assistant general manager Adam Peters] A.P. and Trenton deserves a lot of credit because he came down here on short notice and he spent a lot of time with us getting prepped in those two days. I spent time with him, but he spent more time with [assistant special teams] coach [Matthew] Harper who did a heck of a job getting him ready because he helps with the outside guys and coaches the outside guys. So, Trenton did a great job. Didn’t, I don’t think he slept the night before. Practice on Thursday and he went out there and he performed and then he got to the game and he performed. So, he did a great job and we’re happy to have him. And we’re hoping that that carries forward.”

Who got grass goon this week?

“How do you know about a grass goon? Yeah. Yeah. So we haven’t announced that to the team yet. So I’ve got to keep it in until we announce it to the team. But you guys can see from how a couple of guys played, who’s up in the running. I think you guys can guess who the guys are up in the running.”

Can a kicker or a punter win grass goon or is it a coverage guy?

“Anyone can win that award. Anybody can win that award.”

A guy who blocks a field goal?

“Anybody can win that award. The guys did a good job there. So we’ve got a number of candidates that could possibly win it. So we’ll see.”

On that blocked field goal with DT Javon Kinlaw, he got off the ground pretty well for a guy with a bad knee. Did you know that he had that in him?

“Yeah. Kinlaw always talks about his vertical and he did a really good job of getting up on that play. He timed it out perfect. It’s a great individual effort by him. [DL] D.J. Jones did a nice job getting some push as well. And sometimes those things time up that way. And not to leave out, [LB Demetrius] Flannigan-Fowles did a heck of a job because as you guys know, if that ball is blocked behind the line of scrimmage, they can pick it up and they can advance it for a first down with the score being zero to three, there. Flanagan did a nice job and we had a lot of guys in pursuit, but Flanagan made that tackle. Flannigan-Fowles did to keep that guy behind the sticks and then the offense moved the ball 13, I think it was a 13-play drive and then Mitch punted it. And, Trent downed it at the three. And then the next play was the 91-yard pass, which I didn’t think about myself. But Adam Peters brought it up to me, if Mitch doesn’t get that ball and they don’t down that ball at the three, then that becomes a touchdown. So that’s how impactful that one play is from the blocked field goal all the way through. And then the defense has a great goal line stand there and then our offense gets it at the three and then they take a 97 and finished. And we finished with points. So it’s just good complementary football. And we’ve got to keep doing that if we want to try to string together more wins. That’s our goal, complementary football, offense, defense and special teams.”

WR Trent Sherfield played six special teams snaps and a big role on four of those snaps on punter coverage. When his role became more prominent on offense in the summer, was there ever a discussion about him not being a gunner on punt coverage or was that always like no, he’s going to be there?

“Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s kind of a feel thing. You know, you feel it out. He always works in the drill work. He does everything in the drill work and he wants to be a pro. He wants to do everything. That’s kind of what, he’s a man of his word. That’s what he said on the phone before he came here. He said he wanted the opportunity to compete to play gunner. He wanted an opportunity to compete and play receiver and he’s never wavered on that and he did play. Now, he didn’t play a ton of plays, but the plays he played were super impactful. And I think he was in the play before that, that one he downed that ball and he was huffing and puffing. And to tell you what kind of man he is, I said, ‘Trent, we need you to go and down his ball for us.’ He’s like, ‘I got you coach. I got you. I got you.’ And he went out there and he did it. So he did a great job. And again, the guys are just fired up about the tasks we’ve got next. We’ve got Green Bay coming in here Sunday night. It’s not going to be easy. Those guys got good players. They’ve got two rookie returners who are really good. [Green Bay Packers RB] Kylin Hill was an All-SEC back. He was over all-purpose yards, over 1,500 yards. And he’s a good player. So he’s first team, All-SEC. [Green Bay Packers WR] Amari Rodgers is smart. He’s a coach’s kid. You can tell he’s [Baltimore Ravens wide receivers coach] Tee Martin’s son. He’s smart. He makes really good plays, really good decisions with the football. They’re coached really well by [Green Bay Packers special teams coach Maurice] coach Drayton. And obviously you guys know, we worked with [Green Bay Packers head coach Matt] LaFleur, so work with LaFleur for six or seven years, and he’s going to have his team prepped and ready to go. So that’s what we’re really focused on. They’ve got [Green Bay Packers K] Mason Crosby, who is a hell of a kicker. A veteran kicker, just like we have in [K] Robbie [Gould]. And then they’ve got, they signed [Green Bay Packers P] Corey [Bojorquez], who’s done a heck of a job too. So we’re going to have our hands full and our work cut out for us. And we just can’t wait to play these guys. So that’s really where my focus is. But again, the guys did a great job last week, but they know that’s over and every week is a challenge.”

Is RB Trey Sermon getting more special teams work this week, just given the situation at running back?

“Yeah, he is. He always gets work. He works every week. Last week in the game, he did a really nice job on the kickoff coverage. You won’t notice it because Cannon made the play at the 20, the tackle inside of 20 and a fourth quarter with 10 minutes left. But Trey Sermon had a heck of a button press on that play. Played real physical, shed his guy and got to the ball. So that was a positive play for him. And Trey is coming along, excited about Trey.”