Q. What went into the decision to bring in K Matt McCrane? And why was it important to prioritize kicker over maybe bringing in an extra long snapper or an extra punter as well? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: Obviously, we’ve all seen the headlines and everything with the COVID and people going down. It was more of a contingency plan just in case something were to happen, where we have to bring in a kicker.
So, it was more just making sure we were ready for anything to happen, and [Eagles Head Coach] Nick [Sirianni] and [Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager] Howie [Roseman] do a great job thinking ahead, just in case. It was more just to cover ourselves more than anything else.
Q. There were a couple times on Sunday where you had returners kind of play it off one bounce, and I am curious what the coaching points are with that? Is that something you discourage or something you’re okay with in certain circumstances? (EJ Smith)
MICHAEL CLAY: I guess I’ll just split it up. For kickoff return, we’d love the ball to not hit the ground, but I know it looked like – I mean, from a bystander at a late December game, it was actually really nice weather, but from the wind standpoint for special teams, going north into the open tunnel, the wind was actually really tricky. And the one that [RB] Kenny [Gainwell] had caught off the one hop, the ball just kind of died right there. [Giants K] Graham [Gano] does a really good job anyways of kind of popping it up with good hang time. But it just got caught in the wind there and one-hopped him right there and he just got what he got and we got to the 24 yard line.
And in terms of punt, punt is a little bit different. Sometimes, a punter hits a bad ball and it rolls or bounces. Sometimes, it bounces right to the returner; sometimes, it’s all over the place.
Obviously, we would love to catch the ball without it hitting the ground, but it’s a different scenario right there in terms of, ‘Is it going out of bounds? Is it going right to you? Can you get as many yards as possible?’
I mean, the two different scenarios were Kenny’s in the kickoff return, he got it, got what he could, got to the 24-yard line, which was great.
Then one with [WR] Jalen [Reagor] to his right, it was a shorter punt and it bounced, but it bounced right to Jalen and he picked up 14 yards and saved us some good field position right there, which I thought was a very good job by him.
It’s all situationally, ‘Where am I at? Where are the coverage people at, in terms of am I going to pick up a bouncing ball or am I just going to call it? Make sure everybody gets away and we live to fight another down.’
Q. On WR Jalen Reagor’s big punt return, how did that happen? How did he get sprung? And is that the type of play you hope can bring some added confidence for him? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: I don’t think the confidence ever wavers for Jalen [Reagor]. It’s funny, I was on my morning commute to the stadium and I rarely get a text from anybody before 9:00 on Sundays. I got a text from Jalen saying he was going to get one this week.
So, the confidence never wavers with Jalen. In terms of the play, it was an outstanding job by him running up, being aggressive and catching the ball before, like we just mentioned, the ball hits the ground. If you watch the play, [WR] J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside] – I’ll take a step back. It always starts on the outside with us, so [CB] Josiah [Scott] and [CB] Zech [McPhearson] were in a double on the right side, and [DB] Andre Chachere was on the left side in the single, and they did a heck of a job stopping the gunners.
You can never get a return really started unless you can stop the gunners, so they did an outstanding job right there. And then if you look at it, J.J. is on the interior and he puts his foot in the ground and he helps out, kind of create an open lane, him and [S] Jared Mayden. And J.J. kind of took out two people. He took a charge on the gunner and blocked his own guy, and that’s where the lane kind of opened up for Jalen.
Jalen trusted it and trusted the other ten guys to get the blocks. He hit it forward and it got to the outside, got vertical and then stretched it. It was just a big play, not just for the punt return team, but also for the offense, a short field. Obviously, we got three points out of it, but just one of those things where it kind of shortens up the field for the offense.
Q. The opening kickoff, what’s the coaching point for RB Kenny Gainwell there? Or was it just a really good play by the other team getting that ball loose? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: There are always coaching points. For Kenny [Gainwell], when he gets in a crowd, he just has to cover up, has all the points of pressure right there. He tried to make a move and the ball kind of got loose off his body right there and the coverage team made a good play.
The guy’s helmet hit him right on the ball right there as he spun. We were fortunate that J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside] was right there to pick it up and got the ball to the 23. Just some coaching some points, when you get into that crowd, especially hitting the downhill, we just got to cover it up, then you can go back to one hand once it opens up a little bit more.
More just coaching and being more aware. You’re in a crowd, let’s just cover it up. If he falls, he’s going to fall forward to the 25, 26. Balls pops out, we’re fortunate enough that J.J. was in the right place at the right time and got on it and saved a disaster play from happening.
Q. DB Andre Chachere was added to the reserve COVID list and he’s been one the best gunners you’ve had on the team. Now, you also don’t have LB Shaun Bradley, who’s also on that list. How tough is it as a special teams coordinator to continue to basically do the best job you guys can with so many players moving in and out, especially with a lot of callups having to fill in those special teams roles? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s what every special teams coordinator, when you take this job, you know it’s always a moving part. Everything is very fluid, which makes it a very challenging job but also a very fun job because you get to see a lot of these younger guys come in.
We try to get them ready, just like if they’re going to start. Especially the last couple years with the pandemic happening, we got to be all hands-on deck. So, it’s one of those things where it’s an added challenge, but everyone is going through it. There are 31 other team going through all this COVID reserve and everything like that. But I think the guys that have been brought up, they’ve been playing really well.
Jared Mayden, he’s been in there on a couple tackles. Helped spring Jalen on that return. You saw big [DE] Cameron Malveaux run down on kickoff and get in on that tackle with J.J. We treat everybody the same around here. Obviously, this is coaches talk and it’s kind of cliche, ‘Next man up,’ but it really is, especially in the special teams world. You got to be ready for your name to be called.
These guys do an outstanding job in terms of practice. They come up to our office asking, ‘Hey, what can I get better at? What should I be looking at right here?’ It’s just one of those things we got to have everybody prepared for anything to happen, whether that’s COVID or an injury.
The guys have done an outstanding job in terms of understanding what our game plan is and they’ve been playing, and we hold a high standard and everyone is trying to reach that standard.
Obviously, with Andre [Chachere] and [LB] Shaun [Bradley], they’ve put a high standard up, so everybody else, the next guys up, really got to elevate themselves and they’ve been doing a fairly good job with that.
Q. K Jake Elliott missed a kick for the first time in a long time. When you looked at it, what did you see? What was a little bit off there? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just like anything else, you’d love to be perfect, but our operation wasn’t our greatest operation in terms of the standard we’ve had this season. So, it was a big thing, in terms of just the snap, the hold, and the kick.
It was one of those things where just a bad, something bad happened in our operation, which we never want. [K] Jake [Elliott] tried to save it, but it just kind of tailed off to the right a little bit. But they cleaned it up the last few kicks and got as many points as we could.
Obviously, not up to our standards to miss, and like I’ve told you before, those 40 to 49-yarders are like our money kicks right there.
The good thing is they came back. They got those two field goals and hit all of our extra points to get the points that we needed right there.
Q. From the first day of camp to now, Week 17, which player in your group has improved the most? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: That’s a very good question in terms of – it’s hard to pinpoint just one guy. You obviously see just the growth from the first time getting here. Obviously, me coming from San Francisco, it was a clean slate for everyone, but you could throw out J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside], Zech McPhearson, Shaun [Bradley], you could throw out a whole bunch of names that just keep getting progressively better and better – [LB] Patrick Johnson.
All these guys are trying to get better and better. They’re helping out the team with some spark plays here and there, and some field position plays here and there.
I can’t really pinpoint just one guy that stands out right there. For the most part, the group is trying to get better and better, and just going to try and help our team. Especially in December games, where it’s going to come down to that third phase special teams, whether it’s flipping the field or making a big play to propel us towards the win.
Q. You mentioned WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside I think twice at least today about making big plays on special teams. What makes him so valuable as a special teamer and when did you kind of get the sense that he would be a major contributor? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: A lot of the time when it comes to special teams, it’s just their mindset. Like [Eagles Head Coach Nick] Sirianni had said, ‘Embracing your role,’ J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside] embraced his role to whatever number wide receiver he is to a special teams player. And he comes in almost every Monday and Tuesday up to those special teams rooms and asks, ‘Let’s go over the film, what do we got the next week?’
He really puts in the time and effort to study who he’s got on the holdups, who he’s got blocking on kickoff return. What’s the return coming at him right there? How can I get better? How should I take on this block?
He just asks the right questions and he cares on making big plays right here. I think he’s done a great job, in terms of being a bigger wide receiver, bringing a little bit more of a physical presence. He’s been close to a couple blocked punts. He has great straight-line speed running down on kickoff and helped out a lot on punt.
Being able to block, being a big wide receiver and then getting out. He’s deterred maybe some returners trying to catch the edge because of his straight-line speed. Makes them slow their feet down and allows the other guys to get down there.
So, J.J. has done a heck of a job in terms of embracing his role and he’s really contributed a lot to help our special teams unit.