Q. What do you think changed for the whole group? Was there any one thing that kind of turned things around for you guys? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s just one of those things where this team, this group out here, they’re very prideful. Anytime you put a performance that we talked about about Green Bay, no one is going to be happy about that, but they came in Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday ready to be a contributing factor for this. I’m just really proud of those guys going out there and the energy and the passion they had to go out there to help the team was outstanding.
Anybody that watched that game, it was probably our best game all around special teams wise, and we just talk about trying to be consistent. You can always do it one time. Now we’ve got to do it four consecutive times to help this team in our run at the end of the year right here.
Q. During last week what was your approach and what was the vibe like in those meetings as you got ready for that game? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: My approach, I tried to keep a very steady, similar approach week in and week out. You don’t want to not be yourself. These guys are going to figure out when you’re not yourself. You spend so much time with these people that they’re going to find out when you’re not who you are. So I just try to be the same person I am day in and day out, and it’s just one of those things where the energy that we have through practice, throughout the game was evident. There were some big collisions out there and everyone felt that, and that’s the sole talking point throughout the week was just energy, just energy and passion, and everything else will take care of itself.
Fortunately for us, it happened on Sunday.
Q. What did LB Christian Elliss add to the unit, elevating him and making that tweak? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: With [LB] Christian [Elliss], kudos to him. Being on the practice squad you can get kind of lost in the shuffle, you may not take it seriously in terms of I probably won’t get called up, but Christian comes in every day and he gives maximum effort, regardless of what he’s doing, whether that’s scout team, whether that’s giving us a rush on punt, and when his number was called, it wasn’t anything changed for his process.
He came in the same way he did, and he was ready to perform out there, and just some added boost, some big hits, some collisions out there, some good blocks on the punt return, so for Christian to do that, kudos to him just to be ready whenever his number is called right there.
Q. Was WR Britain Covey’s success due more to the extra cushion he had with the long punts or were they blocked better, or both? (Merrill Reese)
MICHAEL CLAY: It all goes hand in hand, depending on the opponent. If you’re going to get long kicks at short hang time, you may have an opportunity more than high hang times and shorter punts right there, but it all starts with the guys on the outside with [S] Andre [Chachere] and [CB] Zech [McPhearson]. When you put them in a one-on-one situation with some gunners and stopping them or slowing them down at least to give [WR Britain] Covey some extra room. It always starts with them. Then the interior, can we get off on the ball, make it look like a rush and hold these guys up and finish up down the field to give Covey an avenue to do what he does and make one miss and get outside, show off some speed right there.
So, it was a group effort, but it’s kudos to Covey, as well. I talk about a lot like a baseball hitter, you swing and sometimes you’re able to hit those extra-base hits, and he had a few of them in the game that helped with the field position.
Q. LB Nakobe Dean was a pretty big star in college and has been playing mostly special teams so far this year. What kind of perspective can you give on how he’s handled that and how he’s sort of attacked his specific role? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: [LB] Nakobe [Dean], like I’ve alluded to earlier, he is a really good football player and he’s going to do whatever it is to help the team in any capacity he can. But you could go down the line. [Former 49ers LB] Patrick Willis and [Former 49ers LB] NaVorro Bowman when they were in San Francisco they were on the punt team, they were contributing to the special teams. I mean [former Eagles and Saints S] Malcolm Jenkins here when he was a really good star safety, he was playing there, so it’s not one of those things where it’s a demotion to play special teams.
The guy that he is, the player that he is, he just wants to win just like anybody else in this building, so he’s going to do the best he possibly can studying, working his technique, his craft, asking questions, how can I do this, how can I be better at this to help this team win, and it’s just kudos to him being a rookie but being mature enough to do that.
His time is going to come. Everybody knows that. But he’s going to do everything possible right now to help this team win.
Q. On kickoff coverage, it looked like you had two players stacked together on the outside, and that was a difference from the previous week. What went into that? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: On the backside? You have different configuration, but obviously with the rules you’ve got to have two guys backed out there. We kind of just slimmed down the kickoff coverage unit just a hair right there, just to get close to the ball, and [K] Jake [Elliott] does a good job putting the ball where we want it to be at, to allow these guys to go out and play. So just something, a little tweak here and there. We did that a little bit last year, got back to it a little bit to help these guys out getting down the field.
But it’s all them. I can do so much in terms of telling them on Wednesday, Thursday, ‘Hey, this is the return.’ You never know what return you’re going to get, but it’s those guys playing fast, playing physical, violent at the ball. I mean [LB] Nakobe [Dean] had a huge hit coming out of the half that if you hear that TV copy, like that was a real live hit right there. Then everybody else, [LB] Shaun [Bradley] made a good play on a return that we kind of got hit on with Green Bay. They did a really good job of staying square and everything. Just a little tweak here and there to help these guys out, put them in a better position.
Q. Who do you lean on in the core group to keep that energy intact? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: That’s a very good question in terms of who you lean on. I try to lean on everyone. Everyone has a different role.
[S] Marcus Epps played special teams prior to being a starting safety right there, so I’ll lean on him. [LB] T.J. Edwards, the same. [LB] Shaun Bradley, [S] K’Von [Wallace], those guys taking that leadership role, but you try to spread the love around. I can lean on [S] Reed [Blankenship] as the PP right now; you’re the captain of that group, so we’re going to lean on you to give us the right calls to get going right there.
So, it’s a group effort on who we’re going to lean on to get these guys going.
Q. You mentioned WR Britain Covey; obviously everyone kind of goes into — all 11 guys go into a good punt return, but how much is him seeing things better and understanding what the defense is trying to do and what the coverage is trying to do and having a better feel because he’s still a young player? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, he’s got, what, 12 games under his belt only? It’s a little bit different than college. You could tell early in the season he wanted to return everything. But as you play a lot more, you start to get used to the speed of everything, you know, all right, I can’t take this chance right here, let me just fair catch it. But over the last seven returns, I think four or five of the seven returns have been over 12 yards dating back to the Indianapolis game. So, he’s just getting more comfortable right there, fielding the ball, judging the ball.
When it’s a high hang time, guys are probably going to get down there in my face; I’ll fair catch it. But when I can see coming off the ball it’s not going to be that great a hang time and he’s kind of outkicked his coverage, this is my time to take this and flip the field. We had one at the 44 and I think the 50-yard line, so just the more times you get used to it, just like anything else you do, you’re hopefully going to get better at it. He’s showing some promise right there, but we’ve got to stay consistent and keep it going as the season goes along.
Q. As you know kickoff coverage was a big topic last week, there have been weeks where the run defense was a big topic and you guys course correct it. What goes into fixing something in the middle of the season with not a lot of practice time and Wednesday walk-throughs? How do you fix it as you go? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just all the film study as you go, talking points, keeping it simple for these guys. A lot of times on kickoff coverage, you want to keep it as simple as this is your one rule; you do that, we’ll be just fine. For basically all 11, even with the kicker, with [K] Jake [Elliott] putting it where we want it to be at, just redefining the roles of ‘Hey, this is what you’ve got; you stick to this, everybody else will get to the ball right there’.
It’s just — Coach talks about defining roles. It’s defining your job at that task in kickoff coverage, and I think myself did a better job at that this week to help these guys be put in a better spot.
Q. Now that you’ve seen it for a while, what do you think RB Boston Scott has added to the kickoff return unit? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: [RB] Boston [Scott] he’s done it before in his career. He added a little juice right there, and he has really good vision. Obviously as a running back being able to pick and choose the lane to get going right there and hit it, and a lot of the times you see Boston may not be the biggest guy in stature, but he falls forward a lot. That’s a huge thing when you can’t break a tackle and you fall forward, that’s an extra yard and a half, two yards right there that you may not get somewhere else.
But Boston, he takes pride in everything, just like anybody else that sits in this room, they take pride in their job, and they just want to help this team win in any capacity.
Q. This is the time of year last season we saw P Arryn Siposs start to struggle a little bit with the conditions. Where is the confidence level in him and why do you think it won’t happen again this year? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just like anything else, now he’s in the northeast and everything, he knows what he’s up against, but the confidence level for himself is just believing in himself. There’s a reason why you’re on an NFL team. As long as he believes in that and we’ll be able to get out there and cover for him and he knows guys are going to be out there protecting, covering and him just staying true to himself, I think he’ll be just fine.
But again, as we get forward just trying to help this team get to our ultimate goal, so we’re just going to keep going forward starting tomorrow with the guys coming in here.
Q. You have a game in New York this weekend, Chicago next weekend, tough places to kick this time of year. What goes into preparing for those situations? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: You want to look at the weather and see what may happen, but the beauty of it, both teams got to kick in it. It’s not just a one-sided and obviously not in domes, so it’s not a controlled thing. We’ll be able to look at the weather, say this is what may happen right there and have a game plan.
When we get to the stadium pregame, you can usually tell, all right, the wind is going this way, we can adjust off that. It’s just one of those things where as much as Mother Nature is undefeated, both teams got to deal with it, so it’s not really much, and as long as we embrace it, we’ll be just fine.