Q. Another good return from WR Britain Covey. The importance of getting north and south quickly as a punt returner, how important is that? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I mean, it’s huge. We always kind of preach, like if we can get a first down for the offense in our punt return game, it helps our field position in any regard. And a lot of times it has to do with what the opponent is doing, what their coverage lanes are, what our game plan is.
I think Britain has done a really good job of understanding what we are trying to get done for that week and then he allows everybody else to have the confidence knowing, ‘okay, he’s back there, we’ve got an opportunity to flip the field.’ For us as a team, we are out there just trying to make the offense’s field position as short as possible. You can see how explosive they are.
So, if they don’t have to go 75 yards every time, if they only have to go 50 yards, 55 yards, we are helping our team out in that regard.
But getting north and south with Covey has been great for us, it’s shown, but we can still get better. You start getting all these big returns, you start to get a little more confidence and you want to make as much yards as possible given the opportunities we’ve got.
Q. The Cowboys have had success on field goals getting the blocks and rushes up the middle, how much does that impact decisions to go for a longer field goal when they have lower trajectories? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think Dallas has, over the last couple years, been a really good field goal block team. That goes down to the guys we have on our field goal pro. I think [G] Landon [Dickerson] and [G] Sua [Opeta], all those guys, [T] Fred Johnson, [T/G] Jack Driscoll, have done an outstanding job and it’s more just pointing out that this is a very dangerous field goal block team and singing to our fundamentals and technique.
[K] Jake [Elliott] does a great job with his elevation in terms of longer field goals, but we can’t allow any penetration, any pressure because if they get two to three yards and they get their hands up, they’ve got a great opportunity to block the field goal. So, it’s us on the frontline of really being physical and not allowing any penetration from the interior.
Q. Another punt return question. Is there a hard-and-fast rule where you want WR Britain Covey to fair catch, like how deep, when you want him to let it go or does it depend on the conditions, the opponent, the situation? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: A lot of it has to depend on where the punts originally started from. Obviously, you saw in the Tampa Bay game, it was more of a field punt and he returned it from inside the five, but it was such a long punt it didn’t allow the coverage to get down there.
Obviously as the field shrinks, we have a set rule where we want to place Covey at and at that spot if it’s in front of you go catch it. If it’s behind you, try to do something where it allows that ball to be a touch back, but we have different parameters. Where we are at on the field really kind of dictates the return/nonreturn factor of it.
Q. Are there any good comps for Cowboys WR KaVontae Turpin? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: He’s as dynamic as I’ve seen in a long time. Really dangerous with the ball. Whenever he touches it, you have got to be sure that you get everybody locked in to get him down. He’s kind of short in stature but he’s explosive, he can break through tackles. I don’t know if there’s a comp for the explosiveness he has. He can stretch coverage and put his feet in the ground at full speed and make you miss.
He had a really good game last week against the Rams. I know one got called back because of a penalty but this guy is as dangerous as they come. We’ve really got to be in tune with our coverage responsibilities and make it a full 11 effort to get him down.
Q. Cowboys Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel, correct me if I’m wrong, but just to the naked eye he seems more willing to do some different things, as far as trick plays over the years. Is that something you’ve sensed? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: You know, luckily enough, when [John Fassel] Bonesy was in L.A., I was in San Francisco, so having to go against him. Then when he got the job in Dallas, then me coming here, just kind of familiar. But they push the envelope on trying to extend possessions, trying to get an extra possession.
So, we’ve got to be really keyed in for myself, studying the game plan, studying the tape, any type of tendencies we can possibly find out to get these guys ready.
But Bonesy does a great job outside of the fakes in all four of his phases, even all six phases, field goal, blocked field goal. We have a really big challenge ahead of us as a division rival; and to get these guys back in tomorrow raring to go and have a good opportunity to show that we’ve been playing some good ball and we’ve got to keep it going.
Q. Coincidentally, the two times you guys have faced an onside kick, the ball has gone to WR DeVonta Smith. Right before you send the hands teams on there, what are the teaching points in that huddle? (Josh Tolentino)
MICHAEL CLAY: We spend a good amount of time Friday and Saturday going over our hands team and a lot of it is tendencies on what that kicker does, if he was on a different team, what the opposing team likes to do.
We have certain rules when guys are facing certain ways that we want to block it up and [TE] Dallas [Goedert] and DeVonta have done an unbelievable job the times we have been out there for our hands team.
The guys in front are kind of selfless. They are out there knowing that they have got two guys that have sure hands, they have to go block guys running full speed for ten yards and make sure nobody gets around them. But it was a really good play, kind of unseen. DeVonta went and snatched that ball out off a tricky bounce, a tricky second hop.
So having those two guys, Dallas and DeVonta out there, you can’t be too mad about that.
Q. You didn’t have RB Boston Scott back for the 56-yarder, but you did for the 61. Is that sort of the demarcation line of when you’re going to put somebody back or can that change? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Everything can kind of change. If there’s a heavy headwind in there maybe at the 56, I put them back there.
But we knew [Commanders K] Joey [Slye] had a really strong leg and an opportunity to possibly, maybe he mis-hit it and it floats up there, we have an opportunity but everything is kind of set on what that kicker is doing, what the weather is like, what’s the chances. It was a really good job by [LB] Nakobe [Dean] and [DT] Jordan [Davis] kind of getting a nice false start.
At that time, it felt like, ‘hey, we have an opportunity, if he does mis-hit it, we can get a return here.’ But really, kudos to Joey Slye, he did a heck of a job. He put it all through that 61-yarder and he had some extra yards on it.
So, you know, just like anything else, we are going to try to take our opportunities when they are out there, and if they don’t, so be it.
Q. How much was LB Nolan Smith beating himself up over the end of the WR Britain Covey return? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, I mean, it’s just like anything else. These guys, they practice so hard on Thursdays, our punt return day. They go through so many individual drills with [Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Joe P. [Pannunzio] and they know the A-team has done a really good job. Nobody is more mad at themselves than when they can possibly get more yards out of the return.
A lot of it for these young guys, it’s teaching more than anything else. It wasn’t anything effort-wise for Nolan. He’s doing his job trying to block 96 and getting in his hip.
For us, we are not trying to make it on punt return 22 guys out there. We are trying to make it 11 guys out there to make it easy for Covey. If we are attached to the guy, it gives Covey a two-way go more than anything else.
And he was trained to do it, but it’s just a learning clip for him. If I don’t think I can possibly get it, maybe I go to the next level and Covey can make the guy miss in that case.
So, the big thing is not to allow him to beat himself up more than anything else. You don’t want a guy to think about that play over and over throughout the game. Just like anything else, the play is over, we’ll get it corrected, it’s on to the next one, we have another opportunity to make another play.
So just keep that confidence. Nolan has been doing a really good job for us. He’s getting better each week in all of our phases on special teams. Just to keep his confidence up, you never want to waiver. I’m never going to be mad about a 25 yard return to give our offensive ball at midfield. Do we want to get more? Just like anyone else, everyone wants to get more. For him it’s just to keep him going, keep teaching these young guys different fundamentals. Maybe we’ll get another one where he can actually pop one and he’s part of it to get a big return out of it.
Q. As more of the younger guys are playing regularly, especially on defense guys like S Sydney Brown and CB Eli Ricks, etcetera, how much more difficult does it make your job if they are not always available for special teams duty? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, I think that’s the cool thing about this team is everyone is very selfless in what their jobs are. It’s always cool seeing these young guys play offense and defense and being able to allow them to excel at that but also, they want to go back out there and help out on special teams.
At times, I have to pull Sydney back because he wants to go out there but he’s almost his worst enemy, I have to hold him back at times. It’s really cool to see these young guys take a selfless aspect of, ‘yeah I’m playing a lot of offense, yeah I’m playing a lot of defense but I still want to help on special teams.’ In those terms, it shows how much these guys are willing to go out there and help this team win more than anything else.
Q. On those rotations of defensive backs, how have you seen CB Kelee Ringo develop in special teams over the season and where have you seen parts of his game improve? (Brooks Kubena)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just like Nolan, he’s getting better each and every week. His punt return game is something I’m that in awe of every time. Because we put a lot of pressure on him and [CB] Josh Jobe on the outside when we have to handle them singled up against those gunners.
But he does an outstanding job with his footwork, using his hands, using his leverage to kind of get the return game started. You really can’t get a return game started unless you take out the gunners.
So, him being able to go out there, and he prides himself on that, and you can see the confidence in himself when he’s able to help out a big return. You can see in the Minnesota game when he was out there as a gunner, he made that play. He made that one-on-one tackle at the end of the game. His confidence, just like anything else, he makes a big play and he’s like a little kid again. That’s what you want to see out of these guys in this sport is for them to have fun. It’s always a learning curve for everyone, and he’s been doing a great job, even in practice. I’m praising him but also staying on him that he can do better at this, and he can strive to be better at that.
Q. Can you quantify how Dallas is impacting each and every week, special teams? (Dave Spadaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: I alluded to earlier, Bonesy [John Fassel] has done a great job his entire career from when he was with the Raiders and to when he’s with the Rams. Now in Dallas, they help their offense and defense out with a short field with their returner in Turpin. They do a great job on their punt rushes with [Cowboys DE] Dorance Armstrong and [Cowboys DE] Sam Williams out there.
[Cowboys P] Bryan Anger has been doing this for a long time. I remember watching Bryan Anger at Cal and playing against him. He does a great job flipping the field.
So, for Dallas to come in here, they have done a great job in all four phases. On special teams, we have our work cut out. I have nothing but respect for all 31 other coordinators in this league, and we are going to come out here tomorrow, get our game plan in and come to work and say, ‘hey we have an opportunity to help out our offense and defense in our special teams phases against a really good one and let’s see what we got.’