Q. When it comes to punting, I know both are important but you talk about open-field punting or pin them deep punting, what do you feel is more important? What do you as an organization feel is more important?
MICHAEL CLAY: I think that’s an almost year-by-year study about what is most important. Obviously, you kind of want to base it on how the offense is moving. So, say you got a high-powered offense, most of the time they are going to stall out maybe near midfield. So you probably think a plus-50 punt is going to be the most important. So say for some odd reason the offense is struggling you are going to get more backed-up punts and you want to flip the field for your defense. So I think it’s almost in that case of what’s going into it the most.
I think that would be my answer. It’s almost like a case-by-case study of where the offense is finishing on their drives.
Q. On 4th down and such, it’s not often that you even punt much in the pin them deep scenarios. Did that maybe factor into that equation at all?
MICHAEL CLAY: No, because you’ve always got to be ready. For an example, just against Indianapolis this year, they’re driving it, they’re driving it, then two negative plays, now it’s 4th and 20 but we’re still at the plus 43. You don’t feel good about the switch of field position, so you’ve still got to be ready for that. They’re driving the ball great, but you’ve just got to be ready for all that, or you get backed up, they stall out, you’ve got to make sure you’re able to flip the field given that time.
There’s only so many opportunities our punt team has the ability to do that, and we’ve got to be much better at that in terms of myself getting the guys ready for any opportunity, whether it’s backed up, whether it’s plus 50, to help the team flip the field in terms of helping our defense. Because in turn, I tell these guys, if you’re able to flip the field on the punt team, in turn the offense is going to start a lot closer to the end zone. If the defense has a three-and-out they’re probably going to get the ball mid-field, and you see the weapons that this team possesses. The winning of the field position has to be a huge thing on our punt team.
Q. When you look at this rookie class that you have coming in, has there been anybody that’s stood out to you on film from the last college season that you think could be contributors in this upcoming season?
MICHAEL CLAY: That’s a really good question because I think with this whole draft and how the 90-man is structured at this point, I think a lot of the guys that we took in our draft, [General Manager] Howie [Roseman] does a great job, the personnel department does a great job, they all can contribute in some way.
You see [LB] Nolan Smith blocked a few punts in Georgia. He’s an athlete, a freak athlete that you could use. [S] Sydney Brown did a heck of a job in terms of his career at Illinois. Him and Devin Witherspoon were their gunners, and having the opportunity for those guys coming in with their speed and the prowess of playing some special teams, coming in, I think it’s only going to make this team better because competition usually breeds the greatness in everything. Having guys come in, whether they’re young, second-year guys, I think it’s going to be beneficial for our team going forward.
Q. What did you guys like about P Ty Zentner to bring him in after the draft?
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, Ty, we were able to — myself, [special teams assistant] Tyler [Brown], we tried to look at every punter possible that fits our eye, and going into the process we saw him and we liked his tape. Kansas State is not an easy stadium to kick in, and you’re going against some really good returners in the Big 12, and having the opportunity to meet with him, kind of get to know him a little bit and see the competitive edge he has, he possesses, and he does have some traits that we look for with his consistency in his drop. He has leg strength — then he also has the ability to do kickoffs that could help out our team in certain situations, whether that’s maybe saving [K] Jake’s leg in the preseason, getting those kickoffs off.
Seeing his ability to punt and also have that, really caught our eye, and we’re very fortunate enough that he wasn’t taken in the draft and we had the opportunity to get him in free agency. We’re really looking forward to him coming in Monday and joining the veteran guys and being able to go out there to compete and put his best foot forward and hopefully pushes everybody else to have their best foot forward.
Q. Why did you want to have internal competition this year because that’s different than what you had in the past?
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, and again, it all goes back down to the competition. We felt that [P] Arryn [Siposs] has done some good things when we first got him a couple years ago, but just like in any facet of the NFL, everything is being evaluated, and if we feel as a collective group, myself, Howie, [Head] Coach [Nick] Sirianni, that we want to bring someone in to push and elevate our group, we’re going to do that. They do a great job of allowing us to voice our opinion in that case.
Everything is production based business, whether it’s myself or the team or the players we have on this team.
Q. How do you expect Arryn to handle that?
MICHAEL CLAY: I think Arryn is going to handle it as the professional that he is. This is not like something new for Arryn. He’s been a professional back in Australia. It’s not something new. The good thing about it is our room in terms of just the specialists with [LS] Rick [Lovato] and Jake, they’ve all been in those competitions. Jake was drafted in Cincinnati and he was in a competition. Rick coming in here, bouncing around the league. The competition aspect of the whole thing is not something new or something foreign for these guys, so everyone understands that every draft class there’s somebody coming in trying to take your job. Just like in anything else in the professional world.
I think the competition is just going to help us elevate to be what we want to be in our room.
Q. What would you like to see improved most on special teams this coming year?
MICHAEL CLAY: Definitely the consistency of the whole thing I would say for myself, just speaking, there were some peaks, some valleys, some low valleys, some high peaks. But for us we’ve got to be consistent in helping the team in any way we possibly can and still striving to get better and fall into a higher level special teams group throughout the league.
You could see we had a couple stretches where we were a pretty good team in terms of the return game, the back-to-back big returns by Boston against the Giants and the Bears, then we had our low points, obviously the Green Bay game. You’re not going to get away from that. We had poor coverage in that case. It’s just one of those things where you don’t want the special teams to be a roller coaster. You want it to be a consistent upward tick. We don’t want to start off high the first couple weeks, then just slowly drop down. I think the consistency is the biggest thing on a broad scale that we want to see from the special teams unit, and it all starts with me obviously to get these guys to perform at the level we want it to perform at.
Q. The other two coordinators are gone now. What has it been like getting to know the other two?
MICHAEL CLAY: The great thing about it, Brian has been here, so it’s not like somebody else is new. But Coach Sirianni does a great job with the process. Same with Howie, and getting to know these guys. We all go through our core values in getting to know these guys, and already you start to build relationships because you spend so much time picking each other’s brains. I’ve been lucky enough to sit on a couple of these guys’ meetings and kind of understand their coaching styles.
Sean, I’ve heard nothing but great things from people that I know that have worked with him, and Sean he’s been great. Obviously very cerebral, very on top of things. I’m just really looking forward to getting to know him a lot more as we get closer to the training camp and everything. But it’s been nothing but good things.
Q. Has it been fun having Marcus around? He mentioned you during his press conference, Marcus Mariota. How close were you guys back in college?
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, Marcus, I was fortunate enough to play two years with Marcus, one his redshirt year, then his redshirt freshman year where he kind of came on the map in 2012, but Marcus has always been a great guy, even when he was a young freshman and I was an upperclassman. The one thing that will always stick out to me is the summer before weight conditioning or something, we went out and played some soccer at the rec field, and his feet were unreal. I’m like, this guy is it right here. This guy is a freak show. But having Marcus around is awesome. No different than if you were to go back to like high school or college reunion, you see these guys, it just brings up memories.
But Marcus, hopefully he’s a great addition to our team. He’s been an awesome guy since the first time I met him, so it’s always nice to have familiar faces to talk and joke around with.
Q. You guys just added TE Dan Arnold. What does he bring? I know he played with a couple of different units. What does he bring to that?
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, Dan just coming in, coming in on Monday, just getting to know him a little bit more. I know he has some good top-end speed for a tight end that sometimes you don’t see out of that group. But I think he’s going to fit in perfectly with the group because the group of guys we have now in the tight end room, they’re awesome. Jack [Stoll], Grant [Calcaterra], Dallas [Goedert], Dalton [Keene], Tyree [Jackson]. It’s just one of those things, just getting familiar more than anything else, allowing me to get to know him, allowing for him to trust me because that’s the biggest thing. As long as I can gain their trust, then they feel like I’m not trying to find some different agenda and they know I’m just trying to look out for the best for them, I think it’s going to be anything but good news. Working with Dan is going to be fun this off-season going into training camp.
Q. I don’t need to belabor something three or four months later, but we haven’t spoken to you in three or four months. How did you get over the Super Bowl loss and the punt return in particular? What were the takeaways from that?
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, I don’t think you ever get over Super Bowl losses. Unfortunately for myself, this is the second times that Patrick Mahomes has gotten me in the fourth quarter. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to look at the film. You can’t just say, this play never happened. It’s one of those things where if you could go back and picture the perfect play, you obviously want to change the script, but you can’t change what happened three, four months ago, and it’s tough, you’ve got to face the man in the mirror and it all starts with me in terms of we’ve got to get that guy down regardless of the situation. Do we want something better to happen? Absolutely. If something does happen better, does it change the outcome of the game? Who knows.
But it’s one of those things where in that heat of the moment, a football player made a play where we could have at least stopped him or minimized the gain, but it didn’t, and you’ve got to look in the mirror as a coach and say, how can I get these guys better so it doesn’t happen, how can I — going forward because I’m very fortunate enough that there’s another season to have another opportunity to get to that point.
But you kind of face the reality of it, and you live with it. I’m always going to live with that. With coaches, you don’t remember the good plays, you always remember the bad plays.
Again, not to belabor the point, but we’re really looking forward to the new season and hopefully getting back to that point because it is tough to get to get to that point. Fortunately, I’ve been there twice. Unfortunately, I’m 0 for 2; I’d like to change that.
But it’s just one of those things where you see that play on and you know what’s going to happen, and it runs through your mind when you’re laying in bed. It just happens that way. It’s unfortunate, but looking forward to getting back on the field and trying to wash that away and get back to coaching football and getting out here and having these guys have that energy again.