Q. How much conversation is there with – we’ve seen a lot of young guys play more on offense and defense you had been playing on teams. What’s the conversation like as far as the offensive and defensive coaches watching those guys on teams and getting a sense of what kind of players they are? How’s that back and forth go? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: Throughout the whole season, you just see these guys get better and better. In terms of the conversation we have on offense, defense, and special teams, we’re just trying to put the best 11 out for each phase.
So, with the offense and defense, if a guy is helping us out on special teams in one certain phase, we’ll keep using him. And seeing him grow for – a prime example is [CB] Zech McPhearson from the defense. He’s been getting better and better each week.
Especially this past week against New Orleans was probably his best game. There’s been some roller coaster games with Zech, but I think he’s done an outstanding job.
And a big helping hand has been [Eagles Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler Brown. He comes up every Tuesday and they talk gunner or talk vice, and we just talk different approaches on kickoff coverage.
You saw the last game, he had two inside the 20 that helped us set up a long fields. So, I think just the progress in, how [Eagles Head Coach] Nick Sirianni has been saying, ‘Get one percent better every day.’ I think these young guys have been doing that, especially in the special teams phase.
I’ve always reiterated this, that I love to see a special team’s guy starting on offense and defense. Any way I can help in that capacity is all good for me.
Q. In your first year with former Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly and former Eagles Special Teams Coordinator Dave Fipp, you guys really cultivated a lot of guys that were special teams first players. It seems like you guys are starting to do that a little bit more here as the weeks go on. Why do you think the front office has put such an emphasis on that third phase with the roster here? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s different with every team you go on. I think [Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager] Howie [Roseman] and Nick [Sirianni] have done an outstanding job of getting players that have special traits that can help this team win.
And, obviously, you can tell, especially this last game against New Orleans, going up against a very good unit that [Saints Special Teams Coordinator] Darren Rizzi has put together, they stepped up to the plate.
And, you know, once again, this is a team game. And everyone, offense and defense – but specials teams plays a big part, especially as you get later into the season.
So, giving these guys an opportunity to go out and show out on different phases on coverages, returns, just to help our team, that’s what we want to do. I’ve said earlier, we just want to be that extra spark that helps this team.
And I thought they played really well this past week and we just want to keep that going after a couple down weeks, in our eyes. They’ve bounced back really well in the Denver game and in this New Orleans game.
Q. You’ve been around some hot kickers in your career. In those situations, what’s your approach? Do you stay away from them like a guy in a no-hitter? Do you coach them up in between kicks? What’s the approach? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: For myself, I almost want to – I consider myself almost like a caddie throughout the week. Like, we talked – I mean, obviously, I’ve never kicked field goals in the NFL or in college.
But I’m more of a guy that wants to talk to [K] Jake [Elliott] and [P] Arryn [Siposs] in terms of, ‘Hey, think of this game plan here and there.’ Obviously, I’m not going to change something.
If we do have something, Tyler Brown has done a great job, with his dad being [Ravens Special Teams Coordinator] Randy Brown up in Baltimore, they have more of a thumb on kicking techniques and everything. But for myself, I just try to keep them loose and talk to them about different stuff in terms of the mental aspect of it.
And when they go out there – right now, they’re a well-oiled machine between Jake, Arryn and, really, it all starts with [LS] Rick [Lovato].
Rick serves a great, short snap and makes it easy for Arryn to hold and takes the mind off Jake of where the laces are and everything like that.
So, in terms of mechanically, they do it for so long, I don’t need to tell them anything. I just try to keep them loose and in a great mental space.
It’s all kudos to them. They’re the ones going out there and putting in the hard work. I’m just there as the caddie, ‘Hey, maybe you want to do this on this situation,’ and let them go out and play.
Q. What’s your evaluation of how the kick and punt return is going right now? And is there any thought of switching up or toying with the returners and trying some different combinations? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: No. I think – obviously, the kickoff return, we had a couple in the game. One we had a very bad mental lapse and a penalty on the backend that we weren’t too proud of that kind of set our offense up in a bad situation. Then another one, we just let a guy run free.
But the good thing is, how I look at it as the glass half full, we came back off that last kickoff return and we set our offense up past the 25-yard line because we kind of timed it up, got to what we needed to do.
And [WR] Jalen [Reagor] has done an outstanding job in terms of kickoff return. You know, as a kickoff returner, you don’t really have a lot of say. You can make a great cut off the back door and that’s all on the kickoff returner, but it’s the other 10 guys that we have to be mentally prepared for anything, especially in these later months with guys keeping the ball in play and everything.
We just got to be pretty honed in on what we want to do, when guys move around different safeties, different type of kick locations.
But I think Jalen’s done a great job. And in terms of the punt return, the last two weeks, I know it doesn’t show the splash play but –I look at it as punt return as like a boxer.
You got to give these body blows, these 10 yards, these 12 yards, these 13-yard returns and then maybe, when they let their guard down after getting gashed a couple times, you hit the big one.
But I thought Jalen has done a great job so far in terms of fielding the ball. He’s catching the ball great. There may have be one opportunity in the New Orleans game where he should’ve just fair caught and we live to see another down. Probably at the 7-yard line on that plus-50 and he knew it.
But besides that, he’s done a great job. And these guys, they’re blocking hard for him, they’re rushing hard for him, trying to give the opportunity for him to really show his elite speed.
In the Denver game, his last punt return, he made two vicious cuts that I have never seen really anybody make, outside maybe [former NFL WR] Dante Hall and [Saints WR] Deonte Harris, where he made one guy miss and the other guy miss, and he just tripped over his own foot.
But I thought Jalen has been doing an outstanding job for us getting the gash yards. He had two in the New Orleans game, the one he took up the right sideline off a short punt. I mean, we had the ball at the plus-40, shoot, we’re five yards away from some big points right there.
Then, he the 10-yard return we tacked on the holding penalty from New Orleans, now we’re at the minus-42. First down and a half, you’re back in field goal range.
So, he’s doing a very good job of understanding the game within the game in terms of his returning ability. And, you know, anything else, it – something’s going to come up hopefully sooner rather than later, but he’s doing an outstanding job in terms of fielding punts.
Q. What has WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside done to kind of make himself into a good special teams player? Considering he’s a former second-round pick and everything like that, what kind of sacrifices did he make on his part? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: In terms of sacrifices, that’s for him to interpret what a sacrifice is. What I see out of [WR] J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside], he’s trying to help this team be as good as possible. And if that’s becoming a four-core player, that’s what he wants to do.
He comes in every Monday and Tuesday asking about the game plan. He just wants to learn more about special teams, because at times, it is a little foreign for him, but he’s doing a great job for us in terms of he uses his speed very well. He’s a big wide receiver, he’s starting to use his hands more.
He’s asking defensive players about backpedaling, using your hands, shedding blocks and stuff like that. So, for J.J., it’s been a pleasant surprise from when I first met him out in the spring and then – Coach [Nick] Sirianni really emphasized defining the role and he’s really taken on this role.
The fruits of his labor paid off. That big 23-yard catch right there kind of gave us that extra boost to finish the deal against New Orleans. And he came out, he made Deonte Harris stop his feet on one of the kickoffs and [S] K’Von [Wallace] made the tackle right there.
So, he’s been doing an outstanding job and he just wants to keep getting better and better and to just help this team and that’s all we want to do in the special teams unit.
Q. You mentioned the punt that WR Jalen Reagor – the one you second-guessed. What about the one he fielded on the three and he was kind of moving back. Are you okay with that one? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, it’s one of those things – he’s in the field – the closest guy was 20 yards away.
It’s one of those double-edged swords. If he would have let it go and it takes a soft hop at the three, you’re probably on him for not taking it.
It’s one of those things where he is a dynamic athlete and he got 13 yards out of it. We’re not going to fret too hard about it.
If he got tackled at the four, obviously, he’s going to get ridiculed and everything. But I thought he did a great job in that situation. It all comes down to the situation.
If it’s a plus 50, take your chances right there. In the field, when the nearest guy is 25 yards away, let’s use our opportunities, not have any penalties and try to get as much yards as possible.
So, it’s one of those things where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I thought he did a good job in terms of that first one, catching it, getting 13 yards, getting up the field and kind of helping us with that field position a little bit.
Q. What’s your coaching point on that, when a returner is within the 20s and he has to kind of field backwards, the punt goes further than he initially expected it? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, it all depends on where the original starting point is. If it’s at the minus-45, 50-yard line, we have a set line to put your heels at.
And if you feel like you take a step backwards, we’ll take the chances there. In the field, the guy hit a bomb. He hit a 62-yarder and it carried with him a little bit.
It’s one of those things where he’s getting back, he’s getting back, but it’s also one of those things where he doesn’t feel any pressure right there. So, he had 20 yards to get up the field, get 10, 12 yards right there, fall forwards, you’re at the 18, 20-yard line, no different than a touchback.
It’s just one of those things, understanding where you are on the field. And once again, I wouldn’t take that return back whatsoever. I thought he did a good job getting up the field right there and getting to the 16-yard line.
Q. You mentioned Tyler Brown before. Obviously, his dad has been with Ravens K Justin Tucker for a really long time. A couple of teams have kicking specialists, but not a lot. Have you seen K Jake Elliott tapping into him when it comes to mechanics and things like is that? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think it’s just nice to have someone that speaks the same lingo, in terms of type of kicking mechanics. He’s not going in there and trying to change everything Jake [Elliott]’s doing.
Jake got to this level by being a professional and being really good at his technique. But they talk about it, you know, sight lines and stuff like that, where his plant foot is, where he’s finishing. Just stuff like that.
So, I think when guys are able to talk the same language, it kind of puts a calming reinforcement to what they’re doing. And they’ve been doing an outstanding job; both Tyler Brown, [Eagles Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Joe [Pannunzio] and Jake in terms of going out there – when our number’s called, we’re going to out there and trying to put some points on the board, which has been outstanding for us.
Q. Where has CB Zech McPhearson improved from earlier in the season? You mentioned that roller coaster. Where has he improved? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think just playing football. It’s so hard – you know, you come from college and everything, you’re the main guy playing corner and stuff like that, then you get put in this role, where you’re the first corner off the bench, where you have to make your money on special teams.
I think he’s identifying stuff a lot more. He’s playing with more violence in his hands. He’s always played with great speed, there’s nothing doubting that.
The one thing you can tell is with Zech [McPhearson] he cares about everything he does. He comes in, he asks questions, wants to do good for the whole team. He does it for every phase, whether it’s kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, field goal block.
He’s trying to go out there and put the best film he possibly can. And it’s helped us out a lot, especially in our coverage phases and kickoff against a very dynamic returner in Deonte Harris. Getting down there inside the 20 and creating a long field for the defense has been outstanding.
I think Zech keeps growing and growing and gets more confident. It really showed in this game because after he made those plays, you saw him hype up the crowd, you saw him get energized, get energetic.
Even when Arryn [Siposs] hit that 53-yarder out of bounds at the 10, he’s pumping up the crowd. So, I think he’s just finding within himself, having fun and playing at a pretty good level for us.