Q. On the kick return that WR Jalen Reagor opted not to return or field initially, I should say, what was the approach supposed to be from him? What was his explanation for why he went about it the way he did? And why was it important to you to make a change there after that? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: It was one of those situations where we, obviously, have our rules for the returners of where to place their heels at. I think he kind of got lost where he was at when he first ran out there. Then as we looked at it again, he didn’t think he was that far back.
It was one of those things we can learn from – everyone can learn from. Not just him, also all the returners right there. It’s one of those mistakes that we can’t have because we put the offense in a terrible situation. Luckily, they bailed us out with that big scoring drive right there.
But it was one of those little mental lapses that, myself, I could be better at and just keep reminding him that, even if there’s a TV time-out, just to give him a hand signal just to back up right there. For the most part, it was a collective ‘FUBAR’ from the special teams standpoint there.
Then coming out at the half, [WR] Jalen [Reagor] playing a lot of offense right there and trying to take something off his plate there for the time being. We had enough people to jump in. Obviously, [RB] Boston [Scott], who’s done it before, he was willing and able to get in right there and just take something off his plate to be ready for offense and punt return.
Q. Kick coverage, especially the opening kick, obviously, Jets WR Braxton Berrios is a very good returner. What did you see from your perspective? Was the kickoff executed properly? And what happened on the coverage? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just in terms of the kickoff, as great as [K] Jake [Elliott]’s been this year, we wanted a little bit better location off that kick. It kind of just fell into the middle of the field and the hang time wasn’t great. It’s tough to cover any kick, regardless of the returner, when there’s a bad hang time with the ball in the middle of the field.
These guys are extreme athletes and they can make anything happen from a return standpoint. It was just one of those things where we didn’t get the right location that we wanted and the coverage – even in our bad location, we hang our hat on, ‘We’re going to pick up our other guys right there.’ So, the other ten, with a bad location ball in our eyes, they’ve got to cover it up and not make a bad situation worse.
You saw right there we kind of got stacked in coverage a little bit and got pushed out and the middle of the field opened up wide in terms of that. But [S] Marcus [Epps] did a heck of a job at least slowing him down and giving our defense a fighting chance to at least maybe get a field goal out of it or something like that. But we took it on ourselves as the kickoff team. We can’t have that, especially to open up a game on the road to put our defense again in a bad situation.
So, it wasn’t our finest moment special teams-wise, in terms of the game, but the guys battled throughout the game with all of it. We look to get better, obviously, with the self-scout in the bye week, then the last four games.
Q. Just getting back to Jalen Reagor, that mental lapse, I guess, that he had on that kickoff return, have you noticed – I know the last couple weeks have been hard for him, but have you noticed any difference in him maybe taking some of that on the field with him? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: In terms of just speaking through special teams, I don’t see it. He comes in every week ready to go. He was involved in the game plan in terms of what he likes and what we try to give him and everything. So, I don’t think anything, in terms of off the field or previous weeks, really creep in. He comes in, works hard every day, tries to do right with everyone.
So, it’s just one of those things where it was just a mental lapse, just like everybody else has in football or in the real world. One we just can’t have, but I don’t see anything hindering him from previous weeks in terms of that.
But he comes back and fights. Obviously, he had that bad kickoff return, but then he came back with that punt return for 20 yards right there to help out that two-minute drive to get Jake [Elliott] a field goal right there. So, it’s one of those things where we try to preach next play and we’ll fix it when we can when the film comes back.
Q. Will the taking of the kickoff returns off his plate in that game, will that be permanent? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: Probably not, I wouldn’t say permanent. We’re obviously all being evaluated, myself included. We’re going to go through the evaluation of everything, but [WR] Jalen [Reagor], even the first one, he got to the 31 yard line, he brings some explosiveness. Everything’s kind of magnified on the returner in those situations, especially kickoff and punt return because, obviously, he’s the one catching the ball.
But there are other factors. There are the other ten guys right there. So, I wouldn’t say anything like that. We’re obviously going to try to put our team in the best situation possible. We’ve got enough time to go through it and talk about it, but I wouldn’t say any of that.
Q. What is the self-scouting process like for you this week? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: We go through all six phases. What things we have done well, things that we could get better at. We also look at some other teams and see what their successes are in different fields like that. So myself, [Eagles Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler [Brown], and [Eagles Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Joe [Pannunzio], we’ve been spending the last couple days just kind of combing through everything from our standpoint, obviously, our team, then maybe some other teams that have been excelling.
Just one of those things to kind of just clean up everything, then going forward the next four weeks with maybe different ideas of different game plans. That’s basically what we’re trying to do these last couple days.
Q. You mentioned Eagles Assistant Special Teams Coordinator Joe Pannunzio, I was just curious what impact does he have on you as a coach knowing he’s a former head coach and has been a special teams coordinator? But also, what impact do you see him making on players as well? What’s his overall role in the room? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: Joe P. [Pannunzio], I can’t say enough great things about Joe. I obviously was able to work with him one year here, in 2015. And he’s one of those guys who has a wealth of knowledge. One of his best attributes is he connects with everyone in terms of not just a football level, but just a personal level. Especially in the special teams world, where you’re dealing with everyone. You just get to know these guys outside of what they’re seen as as just a football player. I think Joe P. does a great job in terms of getting to know the guys, regardless of their status in the NFL, whether they’re a rookie or an eight-year veteran.
I think he helps me a lot in terms of bridging the gap between football and personal relationships, which I kind of learned a lot from [49ers Special Teams Coordinator] Richard Hightower in San Francisco. That you’ve got to have some personal relationships in the special teams world because that’s how you get guys honing in and playing hard. I think our guys do a great job of playing hard, I never question their effort or anything like that.
I think Joe P. has a lot of say in all that and he helps with the game plan. He does cut-ups. He helps, ‘Hey, look at this. They’re heavy on this tendency. Let’s incorporate that.’ So, Joe P., he’s a big mentor on myself in terms of coaching. Obviously, he was a head coach and a special teams coordinator, but just in life, just to be a better human being, a better man, Joe P. has really put his fingerprint on me with that.
Q. I just saw a stat a little while ago that there haven’t been any punt returns for touchdowns in the NFL this year, which I think is the first time ever through 13 games. I was kind of wondering does that surprise you? Why is it so hard? I think Jalen Reagor might have had one of the last ones when he did it last year. If you could just kind of comment on all of that. (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: [Jokingly] You just put the media jinx on that. There’s going to be like six of them now in the bye week.
A lot has to do with these punters are getting really good now. They can place the ball anywhere they can. They’ve got all the tools in their bag where they make it hard for the returner to catch it. So, I think a lot of it has to do with the punters really elevating their game and kind of taking out returners.
It also has to do with the coverages. It’s tough to put a guy that knows where the ball’s being punted and he’s basically got a 40 to 50-yard dash while a guy is backing up. You’ll see a lot more fair catching – You’ve got guys running 4.3, 4.4 down there. It’s going to be tough regardless. I think it’s just the elevation of athletes in the game and the elevation of punters really. I think punters are doing a really good job taking out opposing returners.
[P] Arryn [Siposs] had to do that a couple weeks ago against [Saints WR] Deonte Harris with some hang times, putting the ball out of bounds. These guys are very good at their jobs and it’s reaping the benefits from the coverage standpoint and it’s making it harder on the return team. But that’s the great thing about special teams, you’re always trying to find new challenges and one of the challenges may be finding a spark off your return game or in your punt block game.