Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference

Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower

Press Conference – January 18, 2022

San Francisco 49ers

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Can we get to the fake punt and just kind of explain what happened there and why CB Josh Norman wasn’t in position for that?

“Yeah, we had D stay on the field and the guy just ran a good route. We were expecting the fake. The defense was out there. We had D stay on the field. The guy just ran a good route.”

As you mentioned, your defense did stay on the field, but why was Norman? Obviously Norman hasn’t been playing corner. Why was he on the field?

“Norman is playing special teams with us now and he’s in on defense stay. So in defense stay, when you put your defense stay out there, you put two fresh corners out there, because they’ve got fresh gunners. And obviously you sub your punt returner for a safety or interior player. Those guys are fresher and those guys are out there and the guy just ran a good route on him. But, excited about the opportunity that we have this week to go in to Lambeau and compete, I could tell you that. And Josh can’t wait to get back out there.”

How does the potential elements in Lambeau Field impact the way not only you prepare, but think about some of the differences versus I guess normal conditions?

“The elements, especially in the cold, the ball doesn’t travel as well. The ball’s usually harder, usually harder to kick. But it’s nothing like playing in the rain. It’s nothing like playing in windy games. Cold you can handle. The balls just don’t travel as far in the cold and you’ve just got to make sure your guys keep their hands warm and have the right type of cleats on and have the proper layers on and then just get ready to go out there and play football. At the end of the day, however you deal with it, you’ve just got to get ready to play football and understand that you may cover more kicks. You may return more kicks because the ball’s not going to travel as well. It’s not going to travel as far as it would in a normal condition.”

On the penalty, on the attempt to block the punt there, what is the coaching point in terms of kind of finding that line between being aggressive and getting after it and making sure you don’t run into a guy in a fourth and 20 like that?

“The coaching point always is to stay off the punter. You never want to run into the punter. Guys got free there. Probably got a little bit too excited because they were so free in there. And he had a guy, two guys that really have been doing a great job for us helping us turn this thing around in [LB] Mark Nzeocha and [WR] River Cracraft here the last month or so. These guys have been really playing really good football. Just got too excited and had a guy leave his feet and got a little bit too excited, which we never want a guy to do. You just want to run right off to the side of the punter, right off to the side of the block point at 10 yards. So they’ll learn from that.”

I don’t expect you’re going to drag your opponent, but the Packers by various measurements rank near the bottom in a lot that special teams categories. Do you see some opportunities maybe for you guys to have a big game?

“Well, I just look at the tape. I don’t really look at any of that stuff that you’re referring to. I just look at tape and I see some really good players on tape. I see [Green Bay Packers LB] Oren Burks who I think’s a good player on tape and [Green Bay Packers WR] Amari Rodgers is a good returner. I mean, he’s a young kid he’s learning. I see [Green Bay Packers LB] Ty Summers, who’s been a good player in this league for a while. They’ve got [Green Bay Packers K] Mason, Crosby. This is the NFL. And on any given Sunday, anybody can get beat. So you never want to go into any game with any preconceived notions. You want to go into every game, it’s its own game. And we’re going in with full respect for our opponent just like any other game. We’re excited for the challenge. We’re up for the challenge. Can’t wait to get down there, can’t wait to get to practice today. It’s exciting. We’ve got a chance to be in the Divisional Round and have a chance to help our football team. And we want to do that. We want to help the offense. We want to help the defense out this game.”

Can you touch on just how impressive K Robbie Gould is in the postseason and just how he kind of locks in mentally differently?

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve been really pleased with the trajectory of the unit, the field goal unit and really the whole special teams unit this last month. We feel like we’re on a good trajectory right now. We had a couple bumps in the road last game, but nothing major to where you feel down about what the guys have done. These guys are busting their tail and [LS Tabor] Pepper’s snapping the ball really well. [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky] has been holding well. Heck [FB Kyle Juszczyk] Juice got in there and held when he needed to. And Robbie is just a consummate pro. I mean, to be so locked in, I could have told you that he was going to do what he did in the L.A. game by the way he looked at us the night before that game and the way he was all week. And he punted when we needed him to, he’s kicked a couple 50 yard field goals, winning that game by six points the other day in Dallas, that was phenomenal by him. He’s been kicking off really well with good direction. His mindset in the way he’s locked in with good direction, good hang time, been getting some good key contributions from guys like River Cracraft, Mark, [RB] Jeff Wilson [Jr.] helped out a ton in that area. [TE] Charlie Woerner has helped out a ton in that area. [LB] Curtis [Robinson] made, these guys have been making some good plays, good tackles inside the 20 yard line, inside the 21 yard line. And a lot of that has to do with Robbie’s mindset and his focus and his direction and his location on his kicks. Usually December and January re Robbie Gould’s month. His birthday’s in December, so he’s locked and loaded. And I can tell you what, he was fired up in meetings today. So I can’t wait to see him later on.”

Another weather question for you. The 49ers played a playoff game in Green Bay in 2013 and the field was just different to put it lightly. How important is the Friday practice that you’re going to have? I don’t know whether it’ll be in Green Bay or Appleton, but how important is it to get out there and do some kicking off of that frozen surface somewhere in Wisconsin the day before the game?

“We typically don’t kick the day before game, just so the guys have rest with their legs and they’re as fresh as they can go, as fresh as they can be before game time. But feel good about it. Mitch has played in that type of weather before. Robbie’s played obviously on that field in that type of weather before. It’s interesting that you bring that game up because we actually watched a little bit of that game in our meeting today. So yeah, we’re well aware of it. And we watched that with the specialists today. Obviously [former 49ers K] Phil [Dawson] had the big game-winning kick in that game. It was good game for him. Good game for the Niners.”

Kyle just told us that last week before the game T Trent Williams addressed your group which maybe seems a little bit unusual, but clearly it meant a lot to him going into that game. What was your perspective on what Trent had to say to your guys?

“Trent is always locked in when it comes to field goal pro. He obviously is in all the meetings on field goal pro because that’s what he’s involved in. And yeah, he just got up and addressed the group as well as a couple other guys. And I just thought it meant a lot to the guys to hear from Trent because they know how much he loves football. And I’ve been with Trent for a long time. We drafted Trent when I was in Washington, so I’ve seen him grow and I’m just proud of him and proud that he got a chance to experience this here with the Niners and win his first playoff game. It was special to him. I mean, he talked about how fired up he is to see guys like [RB] Trent Cannon when he broke that return or [WR Brandon] Aiyuk or [WR] Travis [Benjamin] when they get a good punt return and it’s a first down for them and they already feel like they got a first down on offense. He just is a pros pro and Trent just, I mean, it’s hard to put into words to be honest with you, but you could hear a pin drop in that room, and it was awesome. Maybe you can ask Trent a little more about it. My perspective is that it was like, wow, he really cares.”

Just curious why Travis Benjamin is a better option to return punts these last few weeks than Brandon Aiyuk?

“Not necessarily anybody better than the other. Everything is situational. And Travis has been doing a really good job. I mean, I think his last three punt returns have all been over 11 or 12 yards a pop. So that’s been outstanding. He’s trying to carve him a roll out there and Brandon’s still in the mix and can’t wait to see him get out there as well. So, it’s just situational, no one way or the other.”