Q. P Arryn Siposs seemed to have one of his better days. How important was that in the game? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: In the game, it was really important just because we had to flip the field in those situations. One of the punts, I think we were at the 28 [yard line] and we got all the way to the 20 [yard line].
[P] Arryn [Siposs] did a really good job against a very good unit. Houston, their record probably doesn’t show what they have, but that was a very, very good special teams unit. For Arryn to get off a punt, one it all starts with the protection. You can’t have a good punt if it’s blocked, obviously, so the protection gave Arryn a nice pocket.
Then I can’t speak enough about [CB] Zech McPhearson thus far this year. In a one-on-one, given that opportunity to beat a good player in [Houston Texans DB] Tremon Smith on the outside to one arm to knife to stack, then make a play on [Houston Texans DB] Desmond King who was a Pro Bowl returner with the Chargers in an open field setting, make a 47-yard punt turn into a 49-yard net. That was a heck of a play out of them.
Once again, Arryn, we’re just going to keep building and building. He’s on the right trajectory, but it’s all the work he does from after the game all the way up to the game, his preparation. It starts with the protection with [LS] Rick [Lovato] snapping a good ball for him, for him to come through with the ball, good foot-to-ball contact and the gunners go make a play.
Q. Does it seem like teams are kicking off a little shorter to you, to WR Britain Covey, to kind of dare you guys to come out and try to get to the 25? When those kicks are short it’s been kind of a struggle to get to the 25. What do you think the reasons for that might be? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: I mean, Houston, they’re ranked No. 1 in kickoff. They do it to everyone. It was a big task for us, and we fell short on those two returns right there. I thought the first one was blocked up well. Then we had that bad penalty right there to set up the offense in the second one. We had poor drop angles right there in terms of our return, and those guys made some big plays.
But the previous, the last I’d say four to five games, regardless if they kick it to us or not, I think the kickoff return team has gotten a starting point past the 25-yard line. I think it may be because of penalties at times. Guys kick it out of bounds or us getting to the 26 and adding five yards.
We have to keep working on the field position game for our offense and the field position game for our defense right there because obviously as you guys have seen, if our offense has a short field, they’re going to score some points. If our defense gets them with a long field, they’re going to make some people get backed up.
For us in the special teams unit, we have to keep progressing this return scheme to have our offense a shorter field. Then our coverage has to keep playing at a pretty good level in terms of creating a long field for our defense.
Q. What’s the mindset that you want to have your gunners have to do when they’re going down the field, and how does that align with the way CB Zech McPhearson is playing currently right now? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: In terms of like the gunners’ mindset, when I first got in the league with [Detroit Lions Special Teams Coordinator Dave] Fipp and working with the gunners, it’s almost turned into like — that’s like my babies right there, the gunners, in terms of their mindset.
I always tell the gunners, the easiest tackle in football is a fair catch in terms of if you’re singled, you should probably take that as sign of disrespect because they’re saying that a guy in the back pedal could stop you from getting all the way down the field.
You’ve just got to have that chip on your shoulder. Then when there is a vice, yes, it’s going to be tough sledding and everybody gets beat here and there. No white tees in the club gets thrown out. I always tell them, hey, you’re never beating two; you’re always beating one.
If you can beat one guy in the vice, you should be able to stack and make a play right there. So, it’s all that general mindset of, ‘Hey, no one can stop me in a back pedal. I know where we’re going. I know where this ball is going to go. I got to go.’
And [CB] Zech [McPhearson] from his rookie year to now has taken the mindset, and a lot of it goes to the guys around him in terms of [S] Andre Chachere playing, [Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler Brown working with him. They come up every Tuesday to get extra work and extra feedback on the film, what do they see, what do we see, how do we play this.
It’s all that mindset going into, hey I can’t be stopped in the one-on-one. I think Zech has taken a big leap in terms of that and it’s showing on the field.
Q. I guess we are about halfway through the season. There hasn’t been a punt return for a touchdown from anybody I don’t think. What do you think the reason is for that? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: Guys that cover really fast. Punters are really good nowadays. It’s tough. I think last year when you guys asked that same question, week 13, there was a punt return for a touchdown. You guys made the broadcasters’ curse. Somebody may have a punt return this week.
But I think it all encompasses where these punters are so good in terms of the hang time, putting this directionally towards the sideline, cutting off three quarters of the field. Then you have guys 6’4″, gunners out there that could beat a vice, could beat a single, and get in guys’ face.
It’s a lot of all going in together with the punter, gunners. Can we block these guys, can we sustain blocks, guys on the interior. Linebackers now are — special teams linebackers you see 6’1″, 230 that can run 4.5. That’s tough to do and get loose.
But I think it’s just the athletes that happen now make it a lot harder in the return game.
Q. How much also do you think has to do with teams are going to be going for it on fourth down a lot more, so obviously there are not as many chances for punt returns, et cetera? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think it’s just the ebbs and flows of the game for the most part. If the offenses are moving the ball and you only got plus 50 punts, it is going to be hard to get a return just because the field is so condensed.
You see a lot of offenses can get out of a bad situation and kind of condense the field for the punt team; makes it easier for the punt team to pin them inside the 20, inside the 15. Like I said, it all goes into how the game is going.
If the offenses are going, you may not have a lot of opportunities, and you don’t want to get off a hot hand if you’re the offense. If it’s 4th and 2, 4th and 3 at midfield, they’re probably going to go for it for the most part. It just goes with where you are in the situation of the game.
Q. In that same vein, with kickoff returns, there’s not a ton of explosive kickoffs– the kid from Baltimore I think had one, but when they changed the rules a couple years ago, made it more difficult to block and things like that. Have you noticed a shift league-wide, or have you looked at that? Is it just more difficult to return kicks? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think it almost goes hand in hand with the punt return question. These guys, it’s a lot for the coverage units. They’re rolling 60 yards at full speed. It’s harder on the returns. It’s all about us trying to prolong this game.
I think a lot of the times with the special teams and the player safety and everything, I think it’s huge that we eliminate all this because these guys play a very dangerous sport for an entertainment.
But we have to protect them, as well, and I think the rules have done a good job of protecting everyone, but it’s going to make it harder in the return phase in terms of all of that.
We still have to get our blocks regardless of what the rules are and everything to help out the team, but I do think the coverage units have a little bit more of an advantage with the change of the rules for the kickoff return and punt return. But again, the player safety is number one. We don’t want guys going down there, you can see guys motioning, rolling head starts, that causes a lot of injuries regardless if it’s head injuries, hamstrings, knee injuries. So again, just the player safety thing is a huge part of it, which we all want to strive for and keep this game going.
Q. You were using DT Jordan Davis as kind of a blocker on the edge, big body to get around. What does his absence mean to that unit and who do you use to replace him? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, you know, with [DT] Jordan [Davis], you always want to extend the edge on your field goal protection just to create that pocket a little bit larger, but [TE] Grant [Calcaterra], he’s done it a few games.
He did it in Washington earlier, then he did it this past game and he’s done a good job with all that and everything. It’s more just making the block a lot harder for those corner guys to get through right there. It’s just something that I’ve used before in San Francisco with Richard Hightower, with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.
When you’ve got wings that are 6’7″, 6’8″, you’re going to have a pretty good success rate. So just using that long wingspan of Jordan, but Grant is doing a really good job, getting better at it every day.
Q. Did you get an opportunity to watch Cameron Dicker this past weekend? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just kind of got away, but I saw the highlights, the red zone, the greatest job in sports history right there. Just going with the red zone. The witching hour. It was awesome to see [former Eagles K and current Chargers K] Cam [Dicker] do a really good job with that 37-yard field goal.
It’s always nice to see or always cool to see guys that you’ve been able to coach up and know they have some talent in this league to go out and help another team win.
Luckily it was in the AFC, but it was cool to see Cam do that.