Q. What made you confident enough not to make a punter change this off-season? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: Well, [Eagles executive vice president/general manager] Howie [Roseman], myself and Eagles head coach] Nick [Sirianni] we try and have as much communication on what’s going on in terms of the whole roster. It’s a very tough game of, all right, there’s a 90-man roster, who’s out there, is it going to really help our team get better in that sense.
I know, as I probably pointed out a couple times, everything is pointed out to the punter, to the returner, and the kicker. It doesn’t always have to do with [P] Arryn [Siposs]. Arryn started out the year very well and you guys probably saw that, as well. Just like everything else in life, there are ebbs and flows, there are peaks and valleys, and yes, it’s a production-based business. I understand that. We all understand that in the NFL.
He didn’t have the greatest production the last four games of the year. Some of it is situationally where the numbers don’t show right, but we still have immense confidence in Arryn not only from his punting standpoint because we still think he has a lot of talent in that leg and it’s just him unlocking it not for a three-game stretch but for an entire season stretch right there.
But also, he does a lot in terms of the holding and the confidence that helps [K] Jake [Elliott]. Punters aren’t just here to punt the ball; they actually have to hold and help bring that confidence from both [LS] Rick [Lovato] and Jake.
So, there is a lot that goes into — you don’t want to have a wholesale change because now it affects not just one guy but also affects three other guys.
We still have confidence in Arryn to get the job done, and we’ve done some things in the off-season, and he’s changed his body to be stronger through the core and everything. We’re going to still work with Arryn. He’s still very raw, so we’re going to still work with him, and hopefully get him more consistent and more confident as the season goes on to where he can be an asset like he is in the plus 50 area. We all know he’s pretty dangerous in the plus 50 area, now let’s make it consistent from the 20 to the 40 to help flip the field for our defense.
Q. What happened in that last game with the punts? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: The first one, I know we were in Tampa, Florida, but if you’re on that field, 30 mile per hour winds, it’s going to affect the drop. As we were going into it, we wanted to get to as much of a comfortable situation which is a drop punt, how he drops the ball. If you turn it over the wind is going to take it at some point.
When we went out there, we felt good. The wind had stopped, and it picked up as soon as that punt — and obviously not an excuse, but just giving you guys how it goes down. His drop falls outside, so the ball is going to fall outside. After that first one he settled down. He had very good punts going forward. There was good coverage from [CB] Josiah Scott, [CB] Zech McPhearson right there, but it all had to happen on the drop on that first punt in Tampa Bay.
The Dallas game he just had a bad game. It is what it is. He had a bad game. He knows it. He was going to come back, we had a good week of practice right there and just a bad drop with some wind that pushed it outside, it’s going to happen. Mother Nature is undefeated, but he came back, did some good punts right there, we flipped the field a couple times to plus-50 again, inside the 10-yard line.
Again, Arryn is going to go through those growing pains, I’m going to go through growing pains as a coordinator, but for him to come back and hit some good punts, some 50-yard punts inside the 10 I thought was really good for him. Obviously, it wasn’t the outcome we wanted against Tampa Bay in a playoff game, regardless of if it’s punting or the entirety of the units right there.
But we’re going to — it’s last year. We’re on to 2022 and we’re trying to get better and better each day.
Q. When it comes to competition, what’s your philosophy? Obviously, everybody is competing with people outside the building. You can bring somebody in at any time, but to have somebody there every day, what’s your feeling on that process of somebody being in the room pushing you every single day? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I’ve probably been around a couple of those punting competitions in my career. It all depends on what the whole situation is and what’s available out there. You don’t want to bring a guy in that may not have the experience as a veteran or something, bring him in, now you’re burning a roster spot where if someone goes down with something, COVID, and you need the legs for everyone else, you don’t want that roster spot not to be taken.
You never know what’s going to unfold from now until September. There may be some legs out there that we do want to bring in, but for right now I think we’re going to work with our three right now, get that confidence back up there. When we get more into training camp Howie does a great job of having a whole eye on the league right there and if we have those conversations, we have those conversations, but for now we’re just going to keep working with this group.
Q. Arryn is building up his core strength; was that a recommendation from the coaching staff or did he do that on his own? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: A little bit of both. It’s a long 20-game season, so you have to keep your body in tiptop shape. That’s just going to help him just get better as a football player, just better core strength. He’s going to have greater longevity right there, but the discussion was not like, ‘Hey, you have to do that.’ He saw it himself. He’s very self-aware, which is great out of these three. Rick, Jake and Arryn are very self-aware in what they do.
So, it was just me and him talking after the end of the year. He’s doing a great job with it and he’s in very good shape right now.
Q. As an Olympic hurdler, what kind of potential does WR Devon Allen have as a returner? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: As a returner? Devon hasn’t played football since 2016, but we’re excited to have that type of speed really. Saw him playing in college at Oregon. He was a very good receiver at Oregon, has top-end blazing speed. He is an Olympic athlete for a reason. But we’re excited to see him back on the football field. It’s just him getting back into football shape, one, so he doesn’t get hurt. But we’re going to try and untap some sort of potential that he may be holding back from not playing in a little bit.
Q. Has WR Britain Covey gotten any reps at returner? (Josh Tolentino)
MICHAEL CLAY: There are a lot of people that have gotten reps at returner. Obviously, the rules in the OTAs in phase 2 are a little bit different, but we keep a tally on all the catches, drops and everything. There’s just a lot that goes into it. It’s not just Britain. Everybody that we deem a returner, they’re going to catch some balls from a live leg, from a JUG. It’s not just, ‘All right, you caught three balls, you’re deemed our returner.’ You have to go through everything, you have to see the live balls and everything, and not taking anything away from Britain, he had a very good career at Utah, but this is a little bit different in the NFL, so he still has to get used to that. He has to get used to guys running in his face right there.
But so far everyone that we’ve had catching balls off the JUGS or Arryn’s live leg have done an outstanding job so far, so we’re going to keep building that up.
Q. Following up on that, the two main starters from that perspective last year were RB Kenny Gainwell and WR Jalen Reagor, if those are two guys that you retain as the two top guys going into next season, what gives you confidence in both those guys? (Josh Tolentino)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s all going to be their work ethic and everything. It’s nothing to do with — in terms of kickoff return, that all falls on me. We were not very good at it, and that’s me as a coach to get our blocking scheme better in terms of that reason.
In terms of our punt return, I thought Jalen for the most part and obviously everyone saw the last game. It is what it is. He dropped two. But for the most part he did a very good job of actually fielding the ball when he had to field the ball. He’s just got to get better at being more consistent, getting those 10 yards and getting down.
I think everyone that we work with, we’re going to give 110 percent to get them better as they get going and get more confident. It’s not just them. It’s not just the returners, not the kickers and the punters, it’s the other 10 guys that have to help them. It’s the other three coaches, myself, Joe P. [assistant special teams coordinator Joe Pannunzio] and [special teams quality control coach] Tyler [Brown] to have enough confidence to set up a very good scheme for them to get as many yards as possible and really help the team flip the field in any way we possibly can.
Q. Big picture, what’s different for you in the second year as a coordinator as opposed to last year? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: Big picture for me is just like anything else: the roster turns over. There are new guys that we have to get them caught up either from free agency or from the college ranks. For myself it’s just to be better than I was last year. There were times last year where we stepped up to the plate and we were good. There were times last year where we didn’t play to our standards or I didn’t coach up to my standards where I hold myself accountable to, so it’s one of those things where as soon as the season is over, you look back on everything, you just try to get better at everything you want to do, regardless if it’s field goals, field goal blocks. It’s myself, raising my level of getting these guys better and more consistent. That’s myself, as well, and taking criticism the best way I can, rolling with it, plucking things from different areas that guys have succeeded in the NFL.
It’s just myself growing as a coordinator and now just understanding more — I’ve had a full year of now understanding these different personalities, so I know how to somewhat talk to them a little bit better, a little bit more fluidly where they can hear without just hearing some word jargon.
For myself, it’s just getting better every day in terms of how can I make everybody else that I have an umbrella on better. It’s always a work in progress, and even for myself I’m going back and watching stuff from 2015, 2014 when I was here with Fipp [former Eagles special teams coordinator and current Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp] when we had some great success. Why did we get to that pinnacle of all those blocked punts, those returns? It’s just you can never plateau yourself. I’m always going to dig back and try to get better myself.
Q. Following up on that, as a collective, you guys are all together now for year two. How much more comfortable as a group do you feel and what kind of advantages if any does that give your coaching staff? (Rob Kuestner)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think what really helps us is the communication and the different types of words we use. Like I don’t have to start from ground zero. There’s already a foundation built. If I say something one time, everybody outside of the rookies have heard it before, so now it’s almost an accelerator program where we can really dive into more specific details on how to get better. So, I think that’s going to help not just myself but probably everybody else in the building, being the second year of the same staff.
I think in terms of that, the communication is going to be a lot easier, and we can hit things a lot faster and be more confident in it. We’re still going to try to keep it simple so they can play fast, but there’s little things where I can talk to [LB] Shaun Bradley now, who we saw he had a very good year last year, something different where he’s like, ‘Oh, I get it now,’ where we were still figuring it out last year.
Q. LB Kyron Johnson comes in with a reputation for playing well on special teams at Kansas. What makes him good, and how can he help this team on special teams? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: Kyron had a very good career, not just in special teams but as a rusher, linebacker at Kansas. Can’t take anything away from him for that. If you get a guy that’s 235 that runs a 4.4, 4.39, that’s going to help out regardless in anything you do.
But he’s like an old soul. He wants to learn. He’s wide eyed. He wants to get better in everything. He wants to test the veterans a little bit like that which is also great, but it’s also him just understanding you’ve got all these great athletic talents, let’s take these great athletic talents and put them towards — you see this type of block, you can beat it this way. It’s no different than him seeing a tackle going down or a tackle that opens up his hips and he can beat him off the edge right there. It’s just little things where I can get him to play even faster. But that 4.4 speed that he has, you can’t teach speed, so that’s something you transfer that from speed to power. And he has a good group to learn from. He has Shaun Bradley, [LB] T.J. Edwards, [LB] Davion [Taylor], [LB] Patrick Johnson who played a lot as a rookie, so there are a lot of guys that were in his shoes a year or two years ago that could help him grow and kind of speed up the process.
Q. In circling back to Jalen Reagor, he said it is what it is regarding the playoff game. That part of punt returning seems to have very little margin for error. What’s your level of tolerance when it comes to looking at what he can do with the ball in his hands compared to catching the ball? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: Last year Jalen showed to me, and regardless if it’s right, wrong or indifferent, that he was able to catch the ball at a very highly consistent rate. He had two in the Tampa Bay game and one in the New York Jets game which he made a heck of a play, picked it up and got 20 yards out of it.
But it takes a lot of courage for punt returners back there to stay back there knowing there are two guys flying at you to stay calm and catch the ball right there. So, I thought Jalen did actually a very good job.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the NFL that doesn’t muff the ball once or twice. Even [Jets WR] Braxton Berrios who’s an All-Pro probably comes under like, ‘Oh, my muff, I’ve got to get on it.’ But he’s one of those that understands we want him to be aggressive, but you’ve also got to understand what the scenario is. If we’re in a rush, you don’t have as much protection. If there’s a six box, take your time, catch the ball and see what you can and cannot do.
After the bye week I kind of did a self-dive on what made Jalen good and we kind of tweaked it to him and you saw a little bit more 13-yard returns, 14-yard returns, getting those 1st downs and 1st down and a halves to help flip the field I think is what’s going to be huge for him obviously with catching the ball. Our number one rule is give the ball to the offense. Defense did their job; give the ball to the offense right there.
It’s not a confidence-waiving factor. It’s just we have to get him going again like he was last year being confident, catching everything, then getting up the field, making one guy miss, then understanding, all right, there’s nothing else? Let me get down. I’ll take 11 yards, I’ll take 10 yards. Those little cuts, then you’ll get those big returns right there like he did in the Giants game where it was a 12-yard, an 11-yard, then boom, he hits a 35-yarder, the ball is at the 23-yard line.
Q. There are outlier coaches at certain levels of football who say it’s ridiculous to put a punt returner back there. The offense is giving your team the ball; just take it. Why risk a muff, a fumble, a negative play? Do you see any credence to that? (Mike Sielski)
MICHAEL CLAY: [Jokingly] I mean, I’m pretty sure all of you would be the first ones to come at me if they hit a 40-yard ball and it rolls 35 yards, now the offense is at the 15-yard line. Yeah, I’ve never really thought of it that way, but obviously there are some guys where sometimes you have a couple tight ends that are trying to go and cover and they’re trying to tackle [former Eagles RB] Darren Sproles. I’ll take my money on Darren Sproles making those two miss or Jalen Reagor making those two miss, where now that 40-yard punt turns into a touchdown or 45-yard return, now it’s a negative 3 net.
I guess you could put any analytics out there, but I guess that would be my own thought process behind it.
Q. What is this time of year like for you? You have a 90-man roster obviously and it’s eventually going to go down to 53. A lot of your job is dependent on that back end of the roster. You don’t necessarily know who’s going to be there just yet. What’s the focus for you sort of at this time of the year? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: For me, it’s to keep everybody that — everyone is included on special teams, no one is excluded. That’s my message. Regardless of if you’re the No. 1, No. 2 wide receiver, regardless of how it pans out, I’m going to go out there, myself, Joe Pannunzio and Tyler Brown, and we’re going to go out there and coach everyone as hard as we possibly can, regardless of where they’re standing, whether you’re the 90th man or you’re the 10th man on the roster.
That’s just getting to know these guys and getting these guys ready for the September, the October, the Novembers, those long hauls. That’s what I try to do, especially in these OTAs, OSP practices. Yes, they’re weightlifting, yes, they have meetings with offense and defense plus myself, sitting in on some of these meetings and understanding what they’re going through, then getting them to play collectively as a group and getting them for our special teams period to go hard, 10 minutes. After that it’s O&D, you won’t hear from me the rest of the time of practice, but just getting these guys to, one, trust me as a coach, because if they don’t trust me, they’re not going to give anybody 100 percent every play. So, if I get them to trust me, they’ll go 100 percent every time I ask them, “Hey, I need you for one play.’ They’re not going to bat an eye or a scoff. It’s just, ‘I’ve got you.’ That’s one of those things, building those trust factors and, like Coach Sirianni says, connecting with these guys.
Special teams has the luxury of not just dealing with seven to ten guys, you get to deal with all 90, whether that’s Jalen Hurts or [T/G] Brett Toth. You get to deal with these guys because at some point there may be a situation where it’s a hurricane situation where its, ‘Jalen, you have to run off the field,’ and we’re a well-oiled machine like that, or, ‘Brett, I need you as an end on field goal,’ and I know he’s going to be able to do that.
It’s just connecting with these guys and getting their trust factor and understanding these guys, they do everything else like everybody else. They’re everyday people, as well, outside of this building, just understanding, ‘Hey, how is your family doing,’ getting to know these guys more than anything else.