Q. Two questions for you. How many text messages did you exchange with the 49ers after they won yesterday and kind of helped you guys on your way to get into the playoffs? And any interesting conversations come out of that with 49ers Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryan? Also, what have you learned about yourself as a coordinator in your first year? Like maybe learned about yourself as a teacher and as a coach since you got here? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: In terms of first question, I really haven’t – I think [49ers Special Teams Coordinator] Richard Hightower and [49ers Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Matthew Harper, they texted me at like, I guess, 1:00 a.m. our time, just saying congrats.
I didn’t really text them anything. Obviously, we were still going off our win, pretty proud about that. Then kind of just relaxing.
Outside of football, I like to kind of decompress and stay away from it, maybe watch something else, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Yellowjackets.
Then, the second question, I guess learning about myself as a first-year coordinator, it’s a really good question. I really haven’t thought about it since I’m still going through it. I think it’s just adapting even more from what I learned from the former guys I worked with.
[Former Eagles Special Teams Coordinator] Dave Fipp, Richard Hightower, [Chargers Special Teams Coordinator] Derius Swinton, kind of just evolving to the type of personnel that I have on this team right here, so it’s very much still fluid. I keep telling myself that if I think I figured it out, I’m just lying to myself.
Every day is a new opportunity and new learning lesson, and I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to still be – to have this title here, but there is a lot more to accomplish in this season with this team.
Q. Good choice with Curb, by the way, to decompress. How is LB Shaun Bradley doing, number one? And sort of that, was there a silver lining – when you don’t have guys like Shaun and DB Andre Chachere and you got to rely on other core guys, is there a silver lining to that in a game like Washington? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, first of all, it’s always – when you hear something in the news in terms of a person getting in an accident, you just worry about their health. [LB] Shaun [Bradley], he texted me on Saturday saying, ‘Sorry,’ but the first thing I texted him back is like, ‘This game is minute compared to your health or something that has to do with your family,’ or something like that.
So, I’m just happy nothing serious happened to him and he’s still fairly in good health for the most part. Obviously, being in an accident shakes everybody up.
In terms of the other guys, it just shows what special teams is all about. It shows that you have to adapt and get ready. It just shows throughout the week, regardless of the opponent, you got to get everybody ready to go out there and perform.
I thought the guys we did bring up that had to play, they did a really good job in terms of staying within themselves and not trying to be someone who they aren’t and using their best attributes, and, obviously, it paid off, especially for [LB] JaCoby [Stevens] coming down on that kickoff. [Washington WR] DeAndre Carter is a very good kickoff returner. I think he is second in the league in yards per kickoff return.
JaCoby, he did what he did. He’s an athletic linebacker, ran down there and it took all ten other guys to help him create that tackle.
Just one of those things where we’re always going to be ready regardless of the situation. Like I alluded to last week with the pandemic and COVID-19, you got to have everybody ready because you never know when somebody is going to get popped.
I thought those two guys, primarily [DB] Kary [Vincent] and JaCoby, did a fine job yesterday.
Q. Speaking of LB JaCoby Stevens, how much has he improved throughout the special teams aspect since he first came in through training camp to the part where he was able to contribute yesterday? (Chris Franklin)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, it’s kudos to JaCoby [Stevens]. I know a lot of guys in this league, when they get drafted, they don’t want to – they never want to be cut. Nobody wants to be cut, obviously, and then had the injury in training camp, and so he kind of setback in terms of that.
I think JaCoby keeps getting better and better, and I think him seeing other players do it 15 weeks ahead of him and just showing what you have to do to stay in this league and keep getting better week in and week out. Whether that’s [LB] Patrick Johnson, Shaun Bradley, or even [LB] Alex Singleton and [LB] T.J. [Edwards] who, before they became starters, were playing a lot of special teams. So, it’s kudos to the linebacking room kind of paving the way and showing these younger guys, ‘Hey, this is how you stick around in the league.’
I think he keeps getting better and better. With anybody, regardless of what you do, the confidence and knowing that you belong is going to take him a long way. I think it just proved to himself that he does belong, not only on this team, but in this league to help out.
Q. What did you see from him the first 16 weeks of the season behind the scenes when he wasn’t playing? How was his attitude? How did he handle that? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: I mean, whenever you’re put on scout team, it’s not the greatest feeling in the world. You can ask anybody. He kept getting better. On defense, trying to give the guys looks and everything; special teams, they have to run some scout for us and giving us some good rushes. We always portray scout team special teams, that you’re working your craft against the guys that we’re playing on Sunday, but don’t take that for granted because at the drop of a hat, you can be put in there, which he was.
He got the call late on a Saturday. I talked to him, but it was more to him understanding what our game plan was, being in the right position, not flinching. And it showed on Sunday right there with him going down there, making a play, helping out on some punt return, some kickoff return right there.
So, just seeing the improvement. Just like [Eagles Head Coach Nick] Sirianni says, we just want to get 1% better every day. He’s thoroughly gotten better week in and week out and it paid for him in week 16 in a big game to help us get to our goal and get a win that Sunday and help get us into the dance right there with the playoff clinch.
Q. From the outside looking in, it seemed the low point in the season was after the Vegas game. You guys were 2-5. The flight home from Vegas that week when Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni gave the speech about planting the roots, what do you remember about that week in particular and how you guys turned it around that week? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: I guess just like in anything in life, you’re going to have ups and downs. It’s going to be a rollercoaster, but it all depends on how you wake up in the morning and you decide how you want your day to go, how you want your week to go?
And for me personally for the special teams room, I always try to give off – they’re going to play, obviously, off the energy you bring. So, one thing I told [Eagles Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Joe [Pannunzio] and [Eagles Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler Brown is regardless of what’s happening outside of the room, bring the energy because everybody can feed off a little energy.
I think that’s been the whole motto of everyone, is the energy and just being calm, not losing your mind if things are going bad right there. It’s just a whole thing with our entire team. It’s just a sense of, ‘All right, bad things are going to happen, but how do you respond to it?’
I think people have responded outstanding, obviously, over the last nine weeks or so. We’ve gotten ourselves in a good position. We clinched a playoff berth right there, but there is a lot to be done. We still got a game against Dallas left and we will see what happens in terms of the seeding and everything. But I think it’s just everyone just growing together and understanding how to respond to some sort of adversity, whether it’s one play, one week, a bad game here and there.
I think everyone is growing, regardless if you’re a tenth-year veteran or a rookie right there.
Q. We’ve seen RB Kenny Gainwell get more reps as kick returner. What has he improved upon this season? And what do you think of his vision? I know he can use that on offense and special teams, but from your standpoint, where is he at with his vision in space? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, obviously I can’t talk, offensively, in terms of cutting and seeing his vision. But for special teams, with [RB] Kenny [Gainwell], he likes to hit the hole downhill, north and south, which you really want. You’re trying to play the field position game, whether he falls forward to the 27, 28. That’s better than going left and right, sideways and everything.
But every returner is different. I think Kenny – outside as a returner he’s willing to do whatever. You see him more being a core guy, especially with the running backs, dealing with some injuries with [RB] Miles [Sanders] and [RB] Jordan [Howard] and [RB] Boston [Scott] getting a little bit more of a workload.
He’s one of those guys you can lean on him and he’s repping to go. He wants to know, especially on punt return, what he’s doing. Kickoff return, obviously, as the returner, but he is always ready to go on kickoff just in case. He’ll come up and say, ‘Hey, does one guy need one? I’m ready to go right there.’ It just shows how good of a teammate he is for a young guy trying to help this team win in any way possible.
Q. Do you have any players that you consider to be kind of unsung heroes that haven’t been getting talked about as much as you think maybe they should be? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: That’s a good question. Unsung heroes, I think everyone is just committed to help the team in any capacity.
I could talk about all six units. The field goal unit, outside of maybe one play where a guy blocked it, has been unsung in that — it’s just for [K] Jake [Elliott] as well. Like there is nobody around his feet really. There is nobody around him getting through the line and it’s helped his year so far.
I could go through punt return, kickoff return, so I can’t pinpoint one person, but it’s the whole unit that’s just kind of bought into what Coach Sirianni says and know your role and be good at your role; just helped us be that common factor a little bit if things don’t go well.
I’m just very fortunate to have a group like that to coach them and help get everyone to the same goal, which is winning week in and week out and having the opportunity to go into the playoffs. And as you guys know, anything can really happen in the playoff run.
So, I think to answer your question, I can’t pinpoint one guy. I think it’s just a lot of guys accepting their roles.