Michael Clay

Q. On the collision between RB Boston Scott and WR Olamide Zaccheaus, obviously Olamide got pushed, but what’s the technique that needs to get corrected there or the teaching point there in that situation? (Tim McManus)

MICHAEL CLAY: Really just to start off, the guy that fumbles it always gets the brunt of it obviously because he’s the one with the ball.

For us, we have to just sprint back, get to our drop point on our kickoff return and at least get to square and we actually have some power to at least strike where we’re not getting thrown back into the returner. It starts from seeing the ball kicked and sprinting back, really, to get yourself in the position really to kind of mitigate you getting pushed all the way back.

Unfortunate situation. Obviously, we don’t want the ball on the ground at any point when we have a return phase up there. But like I kind of told the guys, it’s football. Things happen in football, whether it’s fluke-ish or not, we can’t put the ball, we can’t put our defense in a bad situation, especially how we ended the half with the offense doing a really good job in a two-minute situation and getting a field goal. We just have to keep that momentum going and not put the team at risk of losing the momentum we have.

Q. What are some of the factors that determine whether or not the kick returner brings it out and how much autonomy do they have? (Dave Zangaro)

MICHAEL CLAY: A lot goes into the game planning in terms of what the personnel is that we are going against and a lot of the times, there may be times in games where we had a set plan, but guys go down with injuries and you’re throwing a guy in there that didn’t get as many reps, he’s coming off the field kind of tired.

We don’t want to put the players in a bad situation where they could get hurt or stuff of that nature with a mental error. So, a lot of it is just fluid in terms of when we want to return and when we don’t, things change as the game rolls on.

Q. What went into the decision after that play to fair catch every kick after that? (Bob Brookover)

MICHAEL CLAY: It was one of those things where you want to steady the ship after that. We have that, they score really quick, then we went three-and-out, had a punt back to them. It was one of those things, trying to calm everyone to get everyone back on the right track.

I think you hear offensive guys getting back-on-track plays. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to keep that ebb and flow of the roller coaster of the game. But I thought the special teams unit — they did a good job after that on the punt play of flipping the field for our defense, and actually knocking the ball off gunner, and unfortunately we didn’t get the bounce.

But just like in anything else, you don’t want to dwell on one play. I thought the guys did a good job of at least trying to correct it, getting ready to get back on the field then moving on and trying to help out the team.

Q. You had that good return from WR Britain Covey to start the game, was that kind of a designed return that you put on or was that just Covey making a play on a line drive kick? (Ed Kracz)

MICHAEL CLAY: We drop what we are trying to do, more of a toolbox like, ‘hey, we want to do this to this coverage unit to let Covey find his seam.’ Covey does an outstanding job. He has great instincts of finding the lane. You saw he made a couple people miss, [Giants S] Dane Belton, he made him miss, [Giants LB] Cam Brown. Two really good special teams players.

But it’s really cool seeing the hustle out of the entire punt return team after getting their initial blocks. [CB] Eli [Ricks] had a nice little hit by that got a guy running sideways that allowed Covey to cut back, and then you saw OZ [Olamide Zaccheaus], [TE] Grant [Calcaterra], [S] Tristin [McCollum] hustling trying to get an extra block to get him into the end zone. So, it was really cool to see the hustle of everyone after he broke the initial wave of coverage.

Q. How much of those schemes on punt return are tailored to a specific player, like WR Britain Covey, does it change, how do you manufacture it? (Brooks Kubena)

MICHAEL CLAY: I always ask the returners, what do they see. They obviously watch the opponent, kickoff coverage team, punt coverage team. Last week, Covey ran up to the office before our punt return install and I really just want to get his input on it because he’s a little bit more well-versed into that new rugby style college, because that’s what they did. And [Special Teams Assistant] Tyler Brown as well, when he was at Michigan, they did a lot of that, how do you attack it in this way.

So just picking everybody’s brains that had some either success or familiarity with it, I thought so — I’m always there to get the input from the players because I’m not the one in between the white lines on Monday, Thursday, Sunday, but if they gave me enough input, I can at least try to manufacture a game plan where they feel confident, detailed up, teach the guys that are blocking for him and it’s been pretty successful, at least this year in terms of our punt return team, flipping the field, getting chunk yards.

But literally all the credit goes to those players out there buying into the game plan and trying to execute.

Q. All your young defensive backs who are playing well now on defense, started out on special teams. From CB Eli Ricks and CB Kelee Ringo, all those guys, S Sydney Brown, obviously S Reed Blankenship last year, CB Josh Jobe. What did you see from them on special teams, I guess as they were starting out, or did you see things, qualities, traits, that made you think they could excel on defense as well? (Reuben Frank)

MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, I think it’s almost the nature of the NFL. You get young guys coming out of college, they are the best players on their team. They try to make their way through special teams.

I always tell these guys when they first get in here for rookie mini-camp, I want you guys to succeed on offense and defense. I feel the most joy and pride when I see a guy that played a lot of special teams start on defense, whether that’s going to be your first or second year. Shoot, it took [current Miami RB] Raheem [Mostert] six years when we were in San Francisco to now, and he’s, what, tied for the league lead in touchdowns.

It’s awesome seeing these young cats go out there, Eli, Kelee, Josh Jobe, Reed, going out there from a special teams starting point to now being productive on defense. And same on offense.

I think it’s really cool to see those guys grow. But it’s also really cool that they understand that they may have to play one or two units still, even if they are starting, and they take it with so much pride to get their job done. I mean, you see Kelee the last few weeks starting at corner but he’s still out there on punt return and he’s doing a fantastic job. Reed, you see he’s our PP, he’s our captain of that unit and he takes pride in that, coming up, ‘hey, what do you see on this, what can I do better on that.’ It’s just really cool to see guys that do play a lot of offense and defense still take pride in special teams.

Q. In your two years working with Cardinals Head Coach Jonathan Gannon, what was the experience like and what did you learn from him? (Zach Berman)

MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, any coach that I’ve had encounters with or coached with, they have always been positive. Nothing that has changed between myself and JG [Jonathan Gannon]. I think JG is a wonderful coach and a better human being. You see a lot of the guys in the building all the time but being able to be outside the building, his family, both of us enjoy playing some golf and getting a round in and getting away from football.

But JG is doing an unbelievable job down in Arizona, first time in there. It’s going to be nice to at least see him face-to-face, him and [Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Nick] Rallis, but I can’t speak nothing but good words of JG.

Q. You’re in your 14th week now with P Braden Mann in the building. Now that you’ve got a more complete body of work, why do you feel like the transition has been as efficient and he’s been as consistent as he has been? (Olivia Reiner)

MICHAEL CLAY: I think a lot of it has to do with just him being familiar with us, the specialists, myself, Tyler [Brown], [Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Joe [Pannunzio].  I think the big thing for us or for myself is, I’m not going to try to make him be someone who he’s not. I want him to be as comfortable as he possibly can, and through the communication throughout game day, throughout the week, it’s been fantastic.

I’m glad the transition was pretty seamless, and he’s been doing a really good job punting at a high clip. Like you said, 14 weeks, we still have two more weeks to flip the field for our defense. We are going to keep striving to do that, but I think Braden has done an unbelievable job. All these guys, I can’t speak high enough of these guys. They come in, they are willing to work but they also have fun, which is awesome. Football is a child’s sport. You have to have fun to be able to do this at a high clip.