Q. Can you talk about what happened on the 62-yard return. Can you break down what happened and what needs to be changed in order to stop that large trail like that again? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just one of our players got out of position on one of them. The first two were all doing our job. Got in the right position there. Started them at the 16. Then started them at the 17 plus the penalty, so they were inside at the 10. It was just out of position against a very dangerous returner in [Dallas Cowboys WR] KaVontae Turpin.
It’s one of those learning experiences where luckily it didn’t kill us in terms of the end product of the game. The defense did a great job of stopping them for three, so very fortunate for that.
From a special teams standpoint, we can’t have any of that, giving up three points, especially the ebbs and flows of how that game was going. They weren’t really doing much in terms of their offense, in terms of field position, because we were helping out in that sense as well.
So, it’s one of those things where you’re always grateful to have another opportunity to go back out there and correct it and everything, but it was just, [LB] Kyron [Johnson], that first kickoff made a heck of a play. [LB] Nakobe [Dean] the second kickoff made a heck of a play. The third one they caught us being aggressive, got head up, and KaVontae coming out of TCU, he was one of the really good returners coming out of there and he had some stuff off the field. He stuck his foot in the ground, got outside of us, and he showed why he’s a dangerous returner.
Q. On P Arryn Siposs’s punt late in the game, the one that went out of bounds at the 12; it was a 30 yarder. How do you feel about that? Is that okay or do you want something better there? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: No. Situational football right there. You can see how dangerous No. 9 is, and he was probably going to try and return that even in the end zone. It’s something that [P] Arryn [Siposs] and myself and [Special Teams Quality Control coach] Tyler [Brown] and all the special teams coaches talk about, is putting something on film that we know he’s not going to really try to return there.
Obviously, that late in the game and you still have to make him go 88 yards. All right, you’ll bite the net average all day on that one. He had one of those we like to call them banana balls where it’s flailing away from them to the right, so it may look weird on TV or to the naked eye if you don’t know what you’re looking at.
It’s going to definitely get those returners to not really attempt to catch that ball. If they do try to attempt it, it’s going to be tough to catch it. It was one of those things where it’s situational football where we could actually affect how the returner is going to catch it.
We talked about it, and if they got to go 88 yards in whatever that time was, two and a half minutes, three minutes, in a two-score game, I think we were settled on that, and I thought he did a good job with it.
Q. Is that P Arryn Siposs’s decision or do you call it? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: We always communicate it. I’m not the one going out there playing, but I’m also the one that has to look over it and make sure it’s the right call. We communicated, we talked about it for an extensive amount of time and we both felt good about it.
The cool thing is Arryn did it earlier in the Arizona game and it landed at the seven-yard line right before the first half had ended. It’s not something that he had never done before. It’s all these things that we do that we work on. It’s not like we’re going out there and let’s try it the first time out there.
It’s stuff that we do work on. I will never put these guys in a situation where they’ve never done it before, whether that’s in practice or in a game. It’s one of those things where we were talking about it, communicating about it, and we felt good about it.
Q. What are the primary points of emphasis for you during this self-scout week? What’s top of mind for you? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just to review everything. You always want to see what your tendencies are, what you’re calling at certain field positions, whether it’s punt return or punt, which way you’re going. Finding different techniques, going back to how to help these guys get off blocks, how to get our blocks going right there.
It’s just really peeling back all the layers that are going to help them with all this time that we do have not really getting too far ahead into Pittsburgh.
Just really looking back and saying, ‘Hey, what’s working for us, what’s not working for us, how can I improve myself, in terms of telling these guys, improve in this to get better at that.’
It’s just really taking everything into consideration, looking back at it, stripping it down, and let’s see what we can build on when we come back off the bye week.
Q. Last year you had that punt block against Carolina. You identified something that you could take advantage of. Have you had any punt block calls that maybe we’re not aware of in these first six games that didn’t work? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: We always carry some sort of punt block going into the week. Like I said, a lot of it comes down to situational type things where, is it the right down and distance, are we in the right spot. It’s always one of those things.
You’re not always going to get a punt block or sometimes you just want to speed up the punter right there where he’s not being able to take his time and get a good punt off. Sometimes you just want get around his feet. There are times we are going to be aggressive and try to get a punt block or get around the punter’s feet to speed him up, so we always have something with us that we can go into week in, week out.
Q. How was K Jake Elliott feeling during the game and what stood out to you about the way he played? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: With [K] Jake [Elliott], the week prior, getting back to his rhythm and everything. You always feel good about it when he talks about how good he feels. We sensed that Wednesday afternoon, Thursday. He goes out there and doesn’t miss a beat. Hit a huge 51-yarder to make it a three-score game. Nothing really kind of rattles his cage out there.
For all three of those [LS] Rick [Lovato], Arryn, and Jake. Them being able to operate, we were able to get that 51-yarder and then able to get that the short one right there, where at times if you get lackadaisical you may push it or you may hook it right there.
He’s as locked in as ever can be, and he is just one of those really good kickers that you’re happy to be on his team.
Q. When you look at the special teams unit as a whole, you had two guys who have been special teams player of the week. Where do you see the potential? Obviously seems like you have a lot of young guys that make some mistakes but are also learning. Is that how you see it? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: This whole thing is never a finished product. It’s always going to evolve. Guys are going to get better. It’s one of those things where it’s always growing, and hopefully it’s always growing in a positive manner. You go out there and you try to get these guys in the right situation to succeed at their biggest levels.
There are times where these young guys are out there playing some heavy minutes for us, especially when they’re making big plays. But regardless of the situation, the outcome, we’re out there to help this team win regardless of the score, the time of the game, who we’re playing against.
It’s one of those things we have to keep growing and eliminate those bad plays week in and week out. We’ve got to get after it. These guys are always working.
It’s always nice going into the bye week being 6-0. It’s hard to win in this league. We’re always going to keep growing. It starts with myself and Tyler [Brown] and [Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Joe P [Pannunzio] upstairs with the self-scout, then presenting it when they come back in for Pittsburgh. There is going to be some growth out of everyone.
You can see guys — right now Nakobe, he’s playing a lot of special teams minutes and he’s excelling in it.
Kyron, as bad as it may look against that kickoff return against Dallas, I mean, he’s tied for fifth in the NFL with six tackles as a rookie.
There are guys – [CB] Zech McPhearson is a second-year guy going out there, making some big plays on the outside; handling I think one of the hardest positions being a vice guy against a gunner. Going out there one-on-one, taking the challenge to try and stop one of their better players out there.
It’s always going to be a growth process regardless of offense, defense, special teams. We’re going to just keep getting better and better.
Q. There is a lot of attention, and it usually goes like on a kickoff, especially when it comes to the outside guys. When it comes to like those L1, L2, R1, R2 guys, how well are guys like LB Shaun Bradley and all those guys playing in the middle of kickoff coverage? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: Again, we can’t allow that 63-yarder ever, regardless of — from the top down, from the perimeter guys, to the interior with [LB] Shaun [Bradley], [S] K’Von [Wallace], [S] Andre [Chachere]; [RB] Boston Scott is on our kickoff coverage team.
They’re doing a good job. They are running with speed. You saw in the second one the physicality that [LB] Patrick Johnson and Shaun Bradley came with on their return. Shaun had No. 34 waiting to try and block him in the hole right there, and he button pressed him and he kind of ran him into the running lane and made KaVontae stop his feet, so he is playing with some aggression and some violence that we need out of him.
But it all starts from everybody else. We talk about speed and physicality. Going speed to power and making these guys stop their feet to allow the rest of us to corral and try to get the ball off him or make a big play inside the 20.