Q. I know how much you care about gunners, I know I always bring it up, but DB Andre Chachere made a really nice play the other day, he went out of bounds and kind of told his teammate he couldn’t touch the ball. How do you prepare guys for that scenario? And is there a certain thing they’re supposed to say or signal to let another player know, ‘Hey, I can’t touch this ball’? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, Andre did a textbook job. It all starts really with [Eagles Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler Brown. He works with the gunners almost one-on-one, especially with A.C. [DB Andre Chachere] coming in off a short week. Tyler did a heck of a job getting him ready for that.
As you saw on the film, he was pointing at the ball and that’s an indication of, ‘Hey, I went out-of-bounds, I can’t touch it.’ [CB] Zech [McPhearson] did a heck of a job racing over, making sure he picked it up, giving the ball to the referee, knowing like, ‘Hey, A.C. went out, now I have to pick up this ball as it lies on the ground.’
So, A.C. did a heck of a job understanding the rules. That’s really good football IQ right there. Zech did a wonderful job picking it up, securing it and helping our defense, giving them a long field. It really helps the team in flipping the field right there.
Q. Obviously P Arryn Siposs didn’t have any game experience in the NFL before Sunday. How do you think he did? And how did you know he was ready for that without ever seeing it? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: I thought [P] Arryn [Siposs] did a phenomenal job, just like everybody else that we had out there. I thought everyone played hard. They did what they were supposed to do. They were assignment savvy. Arryn did a heck of a job.
I kind of felt this from the first day I met Arryn working with him, first time working with him in rookie mini-camp. Arryn’s a different type of person in terms of he’s not a rookie in terms of the age. He’s not 21, he’s not 22, he’s 28. He’s dealt with real-life situations.
It was never any nerve things I was worried about with him. He always comes ready to prepare Wednesday, Thursday, when we have our big punt days, and it just paid off.
I’m just really happy for him. I know he’s been working really hard to get to this spot, his first real NFL game. He really performed to the level that we all know he can.
There are still some things he can get better at and he knows that and that’s the best part about it. He’s going to be able to build off this game and hopefully keep getting better and better.
He can really be a very, very good punter in this league if he just keeps doing what he’s been doing the last month and a half here in training camp in the first week.
Q. With WR Jalen Reagor, what is the balance between go get the yards that are there versus waiting and hoping to create a big play? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, [WR] Jalen [Reagor] – in my eyes, the stats say a different story. For him to go out there, he caught the ball great. There was one ball – the first punt actually – it was short, it was dying on him, and he saved us some yards on that one coming in with the fair catch, catching it at the 20-yard line. We all know if the ball bounces, you don’t know what the bounce is going to look like. So the first thing, I think Jalen did a heck of a job fielding the ball
Now, we’re going to create and build to get better really. Just understanding get what the cover teams give you. They’re going to come, just keep reiterating to himself, ‘They’re going to come, they’re going to come. It’s a small gash, small gash, then the big one is going to come.’
Him understanding that – and he was great on the field, understanding what we were trying to do. He’s all juiced up about it. He’s going to come out here tomorrow in practice, catch some punts from Arryn, and keep getting better and better.
Jalen, he’s going to get better and better. The more comfortable he is, he finally saw real live coverage teams. He’s going to see those lanes and he’s going to help himself with gaining as much yards as possible.
Q. Could you recap what you saw and what you liked from Atlanta’s game in terms of coverage and then give a little preview of what you’re seeing from San Francisco? (Dave Spadaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, Atlanta, the coverage was outstanding. We had a tall task. [Falcons RB] Cordarrelle Patterson being a kick returner that has eight career touchdowns, we knew what was against us right there. The guys were running fast, playing hard. Being able to string them out and stop them inside the 20 was a huge thing for us.
With [Falcons CB] Avery Williams, he is a rookie from Boise State, kind of a later-round draft pick, but we all knew what he was. He had a pretty prestigious career at Boise State returning. So, we all know what we had to do there.
The guys did a heck of a job. With A.C. going out there, trying to make a tackle, then [LB] Alex [Singleton] getting down there. [WR] J.J. [Arcega-Whiteside] did a heck of a job coming from his wing spot with [LB] T.J. [Edwards] to get on a combined tackle. So the coverage units – we always want to be one of the better coverage units to help flip the field for our defense. So, we were really proud of the way they came out and played.
For this week, the message is the same. We got to help our defense give a long field with our coverage. We’re going to keep on doing that. We have all the respect – coming from San Francisco, they still got some very good returners, [49ers WR] Brandon Aiyuk, [49ers WR] Mohamed Sanu, [49ers CB] Ambry Thomas. They have some guys that have some speed that we need to get ready for. We’re doing our best as coaches to get these guys ready for coverage units to get them going and to have a good game plan for them.
Q. When we talked to you last week, you said you weren’t ready to tell us who your kick and punt returners were going to be. Obviously, we saw on Sunday, so I was wondering what led to the decision to use WR Quez Watkins and Jalen Reagor? And does there ever come a point during the game where one of those guys or Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni might come to you and say, ‘Hey, those guys have been out on the field a lot lately, go with somebody else,’ or anything like that? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s a collective effort on who we want to put out there from myself, [Eagles Head] Coach [Nick] Sirianni and all that. We’ll talk about it if we want to change it up. That’s why it’s our job to get other guys ready and we do have other guys capable of being returners, which is great.
We felt like the first week going in, [WR] Quez [Watkins] and Jalen were our best options. It may be like that for the rest of the year, it may not. That’s where we have to come and get these guys ready for the game plan, play multiple positions to have these guys play at the highest possible mark they can.
It’s on us as coaches to do that. When we have those conversations, we’ll have them. For the most part, I thought both Quez and Jalen did a really good job, really commanding the field, fielding the balls and trying to get as much as they possibly can. It’s not just them, it’s the other 10 guys and us as coaches getting them in the right spot.
Q. About Jalen Reagor, what is it that you like about him? What put him at the top of the list to be the top punt returner? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: Obviously, from his TCU days, he was very explosive. Obviously, you guys could see on that fourth quarter bubble screen, you see the explosiveness. To have an athlete like that in open space, it puts added stress on the coverage unit, and it puts added stress on the opposing punter.
Once again, it goes back to what we like as a game plan, and what’s going to help us. One, if [Jalen Reagor] can get it ready and he starts gashing guys, it gets into the game plan for the opposing team.
But also, one punt that really stood out to me was they were at their 19, and J.J. came on a rush to really affect it and Jalen did a heck of a job communicating. So, that was a big step for him to communicate, get everybody out, so that the ball doesn’t hit us out right there.
Once again with Jalen, he’s been getting better and better with his communication skills, with commanding the punt return team. The other players know, if they get these guys blocked up, we can make a big play.
Q. With your background with 49ers Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower, 49ers P Mitch Wishnowsky and 49ers K Robbie Gould, how much can that help you formulate a plan for the punt and kick return games because you know the way they’re going to attack? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: I have nothing but great respect for [49ers Special Teams Coordinator Richard] Hightower. I’ve worked with him for four years and he taught me so much from the ins-and-outs of the game, situational type things. Even with [49ers K] Robbie [Gould] and [49ers P] Mitch [Wishnowsky], Robbie has been kicking forever and he’s been a heck of a kicker. And Mitch being around him so much, it allows me to know what may happen, but you never know what’s going to happen any given week.
I have a little bit of familiarity with their personnel, which helps out our game plan for them. Regardless, we’re going to go out there and prepare like any other week. A very intriguing matchup, knowing that me and Hightower are very familiar with each other, but we’re going to go out and play with good discipline, good techniques and fundamentals to get out there and put our guys are in the best spot with our game plan.
Q. You brought up last week that 49ers RB Raheem Mostert is a guy you really circle as gunner. He’s not going to play in this game. How big of a loss is that for them? (Mike Kaye)
MICHAEL CLAY: Kudos to [49ers RB] Raheem [Morris]. He’s worked his way from undrafted free agent to special teams ace to now starting running back. From a special teams standpoint, that’s all we want as a coach, to have a special teams guy be a starter. But they have [49ers WR] Trent Sherfield, he was a good gunner in Arizona. So, we’re really excited about that matchup.
In the NFL, you’re going to get good gunners week in and week out. So, we’re going to have our hands full with Trent and [49ers CB] Ambry Thomas on the backside, who has great speed. We’re not going to take this game any lightly than we were last week or years past or who their personnel is. We’re going to respect every opponent the same way and be ready for them.
This is the NFL, and everybody gets paid to make plays and these guys can make some plays out there if they get slept on.
Q. What has your back and forth been with your buddies in San Francisco? Have you talked with them? Has there been light smack talk heading into the game yet? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: No, I wouldn’t say any smack talk. I get more smack talk from my friends from back home more than anything else. There’s always been a great respect. I owe the whole 49ers organization a lot starting with [49ers Co-Chairman] Dr. [John] York, [49ers Chief Executive Officer] Jed [York], allowing me, one, to start my career there – or kind of continue my career there in ’16 and keep me on with [49ers Head Coach] Kyle [Shanahan], and Kyle holding me on, working with special teams and strength and with [Richard] Hightower, all the way down. That whole organization has treated me well. There’s always going to be a respect factor with it.
Most of the smack talk is coming from my friends more than anything else. There’s light texting here and there just making sure everyone is doing all right with the injuries. They got hit with a tough one with [49ers CB] Jason Verrett, who I have the utmost respect for. Same with Raheem. Those guys come in every day and have a great mindset to help the younger guys.
It’s unfortunate for them to get hurt. There’s no light smack talk or anything like that. It’s just, ‘Hey, how you doing? Good pleasantries, see you on Sunday.’ We’ll see how it unfolds on Sunday.