Q. I guess you’ve been around your share of kickers, but K Jake Elliott, his preparation and process on big kicks like that, what stands out? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: Really, it’s just his mindset going into anything. Really anything Jake does, whether it’s on the football field or in here or in our room, his competitive drive is something that is unmatched, and I’m sure he’s alluded to it when he was playing all those sports in high school and everything. He has that mindset where he wants the pressure on him and he knows he’s going to come through in any given situation, which is awesome.
Q. We found out that you’re in charge of telling Head Coach Nick Sirianni if it’s good or not. I think there was one time where it wasn’t good. How do you handle that, the rare time he doesn’t make it? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just like in anything else, you tell him the truth. I know he alluded to where I gave him the point like it’s good, boom, and if it’s not, it’s a shake of the head, on to the next play. And he’ll always ask what happened on that, and I will try to give him the best answer I can possibly give him in that particular situation. But usually it’s a boom, fingers point to him, or usually — it’s a rare shake of the head.
Q. We’ve seen K Jake Elliott in a lot of different athletic competitions. What’s the most impressive non-football thing he’s done? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: I mean, he’s a wizard on the ping-pong table. Before our walk-throughs, we go out there for about ten minutes before or something and we just try to hit the crossbar from the 20-yard line, and he usually gets on a heater and it’s pretty impressive how much touch and how locked in he is in terms of all that.
But just having that competitive drive is awesome, not just for our room but the guys that sit in the other chairs, they see that competitive drive and they want to match it.
Q. Do you remember your first time becoming aware of K Jake Elliott when he was coming out of college, what you thought about him then? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: Going back a few years ago now, six years ago I think, coming out of Memphis, I knew he was one of the better kickers coming out. I was fortunate enough that we had a kicker out there in San Francisco but just that competitive drive and you watch every game from around the league and you just know, something sticks out when a guy as a rookie against the Giants hits a 61-yarder to win the game, you know there’s something special in that kid. He’s done a great job of just getting better and better as he goes on in his career.
Q. P Braden Mann’s punt numbers haven’t been good, is it too early to panic? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: I don’t know if there’s much of a panic going on with all that. Obviously cut and dried. The first one wasn’t what we wanted. Got to get better at that. The second one was a little lower of a hang time, but we have to do a better job. We missed a couple tackles that could have mitigated that return from 14 that could have been probably six to eight yards in. You’re getting out of there with a 42-yard net, but the cool thing about it is these guys are such professionals and nobody is a harder critic than themselves.
For him to come back and hit a 47-yard ball with a 5.0 hang time to pin them at the 7-yard line really helped us get our punt return going, which is very encouraging for Braden just to stay within himself throughout the course of the game and help us out in that situation.
Q. Speaking of punt return, if WR Britain Covey can’t go this week, is it WR Olamide Zaccheaus, and how does he look in that role? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: You know I can’t say all that. We don’t want to give them the advantage. But we’ll be ready for whoever we put out there. It’s really cool seeing these guys that are blocking for whoever our returner is. That competitive drive, knowing they have got someone special back there, whoever it is back there, that they want to help the team out in any way possible and flipping the field as a punt return unit.
Q. Jake said after the game that his range was within 59-58 for that game. What’s the process before a game in determining what the range would be on a given day? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: It all goes to the pregame. Jake, [Special Teams Assistant] Tyler Brown, Coach Sirianni, they have a great communication with myself, as well, like ‘hey, this is where we feel comfortable with it.’
Obviously shorter field goals make your blood pressure kind of not go as high but whatever he feels as comfortable with, we’re going to ride with it, give or take a couple yards, given the situation. He made a point going into overtime, like if we did lose that, we wanted to kick that way, so we did have a helping wind, which obviously helped out that 55-yarder, 54-yarder whatever it was.
So, the communication has always been to the point, concise and everyone has been on the same page about it.
Q. CB Kelee Ringo has been one of the highest graded guys on your team when it comes to overall special teams play. What have been the reasons why he’s done so well, especially covers, kickoff coverage and punt coverage? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: A lot of credit goes to Kelee, understanding his role on this team. Tyler Brown does a great job working on that perimeter, whether it’s the gunners or the kickoff coverage.
And a lot of the times these guys, these young guys, you just try to keep them as — you don’t want them getting down on themselves if something bad happens. A lot of these guys come from Power Five conferences, and they are the best players out there. But in the NFL, everyone is the best player out there.
But his knowledge of the game, he always asks questions and he wants to strive to get better, which is great. Just allow him to be himself, be free and use his athletic prowess, you rarely find a guy that’s 6-2 that can run that fast. Not to clutter his mind too much. Give him one concise rule, ‘Hey, this is what you’ve got to do. If you could do this at a high level it’s going to end up fine,’ and he’s been doing a great job as a punt return jammer. I mean, the guy that could run, the one that Covey broke for 20 yards, he was that left side jammer, and he washed that gunner all the way to the opposite side of the field and allowed the running lane for Covey to get.
And it was really cool seeing [S] Tristin [McCollum] and [CB] Eli [Ricks] switch positions right there. He [Kelee Ringo] let one go and Tristin went and got the other guy and blocked 95 to allow that lane for them.
So, it’s really cool seeing these young guys still work in tandem, knowing their roles and responsibilities and being able to help this team in any way possible.
Q. Around the league, K Jake Elliott has been so successful, but seems like there’s a lot more 50-plus yard field goals than there have been, New York Giants K Graham Gano hit a 56-yarder yesterday. Have you done any studies on that, and can you put your finger on guys getting better? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Guys in the NFL are so talented now, even through college, these guys got some big legs to perform at a high level. I mean, [New York Giants K] Graham [Gano]’s been doing it for a long time. He came out with a very strong leg and a lot of it just goes into the technique, not changing your swing, regardless of if it’s a 25-yard field goal or a 55-yard field goal and just staying consistent with that.
And a lot of the times, a lot of factors go into that: Weather, where you’re playing at, obviously, but a lot of these guys are extremely talented and they have a lot of leg power to get those 50-plus yard field goals, but a lot goes into those guys just perfecting their craft, to not change their swing regardless of the distance.
Q. When you go to a stadium that you are pretty unfamiliar with, what are points of emphasis or message? How do you best prepare for the environment in terms of lighting and whatever it may be? (Josh Tolentino)
MICHAEL CLAY: We always look at all those situations. Coach Sirianni really does a great job with all that. I was fortunate enough to play in 2020 in SoFi with San Francisco. Any insight I can give to these guys, if they ask, how is the stadium. Obviously a little different being a COVID year without the fans. But just the layout, trying to remember everything and give any insight I possibly can for an unfamiliar stadium being it’s so new, but I was fortunate enough to be there in 2020.
Q. What’s Head Coach Nick Sirianni’s reaction when you have to signal that it’s a miss? How does he handle it when it’s a miss? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: He’s pretty calm about it. Just kind of ask a couple questions, ‘hey what happened on this,’ and I just try to give a straightforward answer for what I saw as well. It’s nothing, just constant communication. ‘Hey, it went in,’ ‘it didn’t go in,’ nothing really changes, on to the next play. We’ll get them next time.
Q. Do you look at the kicker or the uprights or do you have a process yourself? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: I just usually kind of walk behind. It’s pretty tough on the field to actually see if it goes through, especially if you’re too close to the angle. I usually walk a significant amount, 20, 25 yards behind, and I can usually tell, as soon as [K] Jake [Elliott] kicks it, the ball flight, I’m not too worried about the distance and everything when it does happen. But I can usually tell, all right it’s falling back.
I almost gave a premature one in New England. I thought, ‘oh, this is perfect,’ it bounced off the upright and went in and looked at me, I was like, ‘uh-oh.’ But hey, it went in. Next play, let’s get this kickoff team going.
For the most part, I’ll walk behind, and I’ll get a little bit of a better angle to see it.
Q. When you guys took the lead late in regulation, there was the taunting penalty. Is that something that you have in your mind, or do you have to make that quick decision how you want the kickoff to go the best way possible? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: We prepare for every different situation throughout the week, whether it’s a kickoff return after a safety, or we have to kick off after a penalty and a lot of it’s just our mindset.
The offense did a great job. They gave us the lead. We can’t allow a big return to give Washington fair field position. So, we have to be able to be in our mind, those 11 guys that take the field for kickoff, including Jake, give us a good ball for us to go cover and we have to be able to get down there against a very good returner in [Commanders RB Antonio] Gibson and mitigate the return yardage right there. We probably could have got them down four to five yards earlier. That’s stuff we’ve got to clean up because it’s still young in the season but there’s still a lot to clean up from the special teams standpoint.
But it’s all about the mindset, we can’t allow this team to get the short field to put them in a better situation to score. Let’s make it as long a field as we possibly can, they don’t have as much time. So it’s the mindset of preparing these guys that, ‘hey, we’ve got to get down there and cover this kick.’