Q. I noticed that LB Kyron Johnson was inactive, what does he have to do to be able to be back on the field and be part of special teams again? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: It all comes down to what the week is right there for the most part. It’s one of those things that you never know who’s going to be up, who’s going to be down. We have these conversations starting with the head man and [Executive Vice President/General Manager] Howie [Roseman] and they do a great job, but then it’s just one of those things; it’s a numbers game at times. He was awesome all week, and he’s done nothing but great things for us, and he’s going to keep getting better and better.
Q. LB Christian Elliss obviously got promoted; he’s played well on special teams. What does that mean for you as a coach when you see somebody get elevated from the practice squad who’s been such a big impact on special teams? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think I’ve alluded to this before, just [LB] Christian [Elliss] being ready to do what he needs to do to get on the active roster. When his name was called he took advantage of it and he made a lot of big plays, especially early on in the Tennessee, New York Giants game. He’s done a great job getting us ready early on in the season when he was on practice squad, and he’s played a couple different positions for us. In this league the more you can do, the more longevity you have in this league. So, it’s more just Christian being ready whenever his number was called and taking advantage of that opportunity.
Q. What’s your assessment of how the special teams unit did against Dallas? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: Pretty boring game, if you ask — I think you had four really graded plays. It was okay. Nothing glaring.
Obviously that kickoff coverage, we got the holding — guys were playing fast, one guy got out of the lane, and when you have a guy like [Dallas Cowboys WR KaVontae] Turpin, he can hit it as fast as anybody in this league, so something to clean up. But when you play fast, you put the pressure on the kickoff return team. I think kickoff return is one of the hardest things in the NFL. You get a guy running 60 yards full speed and trying to get a block and [S] K’Von [Wallace] did a good job. He got held in that lane, but we still have to clean up our lane integrity to slow a returner like Turpin down.
Like I said, didn’t have a punt obviously, only had one punt return, then a lot of touchbacks and a lot of field goals and field goal blocks. I thought the rush team did a really good job. [DE Brandon Graham] BG squeaked through on one of the PATs, almost got his hand on one. I thought the protection was really clean on field goal, and it was a huge field goal going into the half by [K] Jake [Elliott]. The operation was really good. The big guys up there, they stood their ground against a pretty good unit.
If you ask me, it was kind of like an incomplete day, boring day. But as a special teams coach, boring is always good.
Q. What are those days like for you and the specialists when it’s a boring game like that? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: You have to stay ready. You never know what’s going to happen, especially in a divisional game like that, with that magnitude. You have to be ready for anything. You have to be ready to punt; you have to be ready for kickoff, field goal. You can’t just kind of get in a lull and forget something. That’s how you get beat.
So, the guys are always locked in. They’re always asking questions [like] hey, what are you thinking here, what direction do we want to go.
It’s easy when you have guys so locked in that anything that happens, they’re ready for.
Q. RB Boston Scott has done a decent enough job the last few weeks as the kick returner, and he took one out of the end zone which we haven’t been used to seeing. Did you give him the green light there because he’s been successful the last few weeks? (Jimmy Kempski)
MICHAEL CLAY: We have our guys’ parameters on when to take it out, and in between those white lines — I’m not the one taking the ball out, so if he feels confident enough in the blockers to get out, that’s on him. But we also have parameters. Like if you’re running sideways, probably just set it down. [RB] Boston [Scott] has done a really good job, and the guys blocking for him have given him some open lanes to get past the 25 at times.
We still want to be smart with how high powered our offense is in terms of at times you’ve just got to be smart, set it down, let the offense take over at the 25, but if you feel good about it, there’s a lower hang time, the ball is not in a corner and you feel like you have a two-way go, yeah, let’s go out and try to get a return.
But there are parameters that we tell our guys and everything like that, so for Boston, trust him enough. He’s a veteran guy. He feels good about it, cool; if not, set it down, we’ll get the next one.
Q. With so much on the line this week, is part of your message, to expand on that question, about staying within yourself, not taking chances when you don’t have to. With so much on the line, people may want to try to take a chance to make an impact. (Al Thompson)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s just like anything else, from week one to week now, week 16, week 17, whatever the week is, we always want to stay as steady as possible, stay within yourself.
We always preach, hey, just do your job. If you do your job, everything else will take care of itself. We don’t need to be superheroes or anything like that. It’s worked for us thus far in terms of what our record is right now, and if we keep doing our job and we take pride in doing our job to the best of our abilities, it will all take care of itself come Sunday afternoon.
Q. We obviously haven’t seen much of P Brett Kern in game so far. What have you seen in practice? Is he as advertised? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: [P] Brett [Kern], you don’t just get a 14-year career for being average — Brett has been awesome with the guys, getting that chemistry with [LS] Rick [Lovato] and Jake in terms of the operation for field goal because you can see how important three points is or an extra point is nowadays, especially in bad-weather games across the league. Mother Nature is undefeated, and guys had to go through it.
But Brett has been awesome, communicating, learning more about him more than anything else, what he feels comfortable about, what his go-to ball is and everything, he’s been outstanding. He’s been a real pleasure to have in our room just to plug and play.
Looking for the opportunity, but again, when you don’t have to punt, not a bad thing.
Q. We don’t talk about LS Rick Lovato a lot because you don’t notice the long snapper when he’s doing his job, but he’s an alternate again in the Pro Bowl. You guys have gone through the punting which is the holding. How important is it to have that steadiness at his position? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Oh, yeah. Rick makes the thing go right there. If he’s able to snap a good ball over the spot without the holder having to turn laces, it makes that operation so much cleaner. Rick has done an outstanding job the two years I’ve had with him. He’s awesome. Rick is one of those guys, he’s an acquired taste, but he’s hilarious. When you come in this building and see Rick, he sits in that chair right there with an iced coffee, no matter what the degree is, and he’s the same Rick.
He takes pride in his job. He’s the first one out of our punt period to go look at the tablet to see what the rush was, after a field goal what his snaps were like.
It’s one of those hidden things where Rick is such a master at his craft, it makes it easier for everyone else to get their job done. I’m very fortunate to have a long snapper as good as Rick. He’s done an amazing job, and we’ll keep this thing going with Rick.
Q. Can you talk about the Saints and what they do on special teams? (Dave Spadaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, Saints, another opponent that they have some guys that can really go. [New Orleans Saints WR] Rashid Shaheed, the rookie out of Weber State, the guy can roll. I know he’s been getting a lot of burn on offense, but he can do the same on kickoff return and punt return.
[New Orleans Saints TE] Taysom Hill, he brings a little bit different in terms of the PP where you have to be wary of, running fakes and everything. He’s a quarterback back there, but he’s just a really good football player. He’ll stick his face in the fan right there. He’s a really good rusher on their punt return, so we have to be locked in to whatever they do.
As we have Christian on our team, his brother [New Orleans Saints LB] Kaden [Elliss] is a special teams player, as well, and he’s a pretty good one. [New Orleans Saints Special Teams Coordinator Darren] Rizzi does a really good getting these guys to play. Very fortunate enough that I played under Rizzi in Miami for a cup of coffee, and just to understand what his mentality is and how the players play to such a high level is because he cares about his players and it shows on film. So, we have to be ready for a big opportunity and a big challenge in the Saints. They’ve been really good on special teams for a long time now, so we have to make sure we’re locked in and be able to go against a very good unit like they are.