Q. CB Zech McPhearson had the big onside recovery, is that something you alerted in that situation, or is that just something that you’re always looking for, particularly with this Lions team that had their fair share of onsides tries like a year ago? (Jimmy Kempski)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, it’s always great when you have a full off-season going against an opponent that you know can pull out some trickery here and there. I could tell the guys until I’m blue in the face, watch out for the onside kick, but kudos to [CB] Zech [McPhearson] to stay disciplined, stay in there at that time of the game not to panic. He stayed patient right there.
It was actually pretty cool listening to the guys talk about it. They noticed — and we always talk about we have rules on our kickoff return team, always see the ball kicked. But for him to stay in there and kind of alert — there was a different pace by the kicker in terms of that. Then you can see also [LB] Patrick Johnson, who plays our rover, was darting there because he saw it, also. So, it’s kudos to them just being so locked into that opportunity right there.
You never know in the NFL, everyone is trying to win, so they have to be locked in right there.
We had gone over it and we’ve worked on it in practice. The cool thing about it is what we worked on in practice, it happened in the game. Kind of makes you feel good as a coach that you had these guys prepared.
But it’s good for them to stay disciplined from the rules day one and help the team in any way we possibly can.
Q. What did you see from WR Britain Covey in his first action as punt returner? (Shamus Clancy)
MICHAEL CLAY: Same I’ve been seeing him since we were lucky enough to get him after the draft. He’s cool, calm, and collected. It’s like having a veteran out there. He catches it, gets downhill. He’s very talkative on the sideline with guys on the punt return team, with myself, what he’s seeing right there. Going against who I arguably think, I think [Detroit Lions punter] Jack Fox is one of the better punters in the league. He was hitting balls up there I’ve never seen before.
But he didn’t bat an eye, caught it, was smooth. On that first one he did a great job on the shorter punt to fair catch it, saved us some yards right there, so I thought [WR] Britain [Covey] did a good job in his first action, live action really against some guys, and we’re just going to strive to get better in every aspect we possibly can.
Q. In your experience how rare is that for a rookie to be that poised in that position? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: That’s a very good question. To be honest with you guys, I think it is somewhat rare to have a guy with that type of composure right there that he’d be back there knowing there are some guys flying at him. To stay even keeled throughout the entire thing and take what he can in certain spots, but also trust in the other 10 guys to block for him. I thought [CB] Josh Jobe and [CB] Josiah Scott down at the bottom did a really good job on the gunners. Both Zachs [WR Zach Pascal and CB Zech McPhearson] had the toughest job in the single, then Zach Pascal dropping back. He has to alert the fake, find out where the returner is, see where the ball is at, not run into the returner. There are a lot of things that go into it. Him working it, in that first one it was like a 5.3 hang time. Able to get some yardage out of that, that was pretty impressive by those 10 guys out there.
Q. It look like WR Zach Pascal ran into WR Britain Covey on the one return, what’s the coaching point there? What happened? (E.J. Smith)
MICHAEL CLAY: Just communication more than anything else. They hashed it out on the sideline right there. That’s the cool thing about two receivers they are very familiar with each other and talking about it. We’re going to strive to keep getting better and better at that situation. [WR] Zach [Pascal] is doing his best to protect [WR] Britain [Covey], which is cool. Britain is going to be out there doing his job that first game and hopefully we keep getting better and better at that.
Q. What about WR Britain Covey still being able to make the catch when WR Zach Pascal ran into him a little bit there? (Martin Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: Kudos to [Wide Receivers coach] Aaron Moorehead. On Thursdays are our big punt return days. He’s throwing objects at them, trying to get them to not look at the ball, and just us sinking down to what we do in practice, getting them ready for the game in any possible situation with that. You see Aaron throw cones, bags, shields at them just to get them to not concentrate on the ball. He didn’t bat an eye and he was able to secure the ball in a very hairy situation right there. We’re trying to give the ball to our offense and let them wind down the clock as much as possible. [For] him to catch it like that, he was out there fielding pop flies out there. It was pretty impressive for a young cat like [WR] Britain [Covey].
Q. What made you practice the onside kick return last week? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: I’ve got to keep these guys honest. They can’t be cheating the drills. I’ll sprinkle it in whenever I want. But we did have an emphasis on it this past week. [Detroit Lions Special Teams Coordinator Dave] Fipp does a great job with Detroit. They did a few last year, and they got a couple of them, so we always have to be on high alert, but that’s nothing we don’t do every week.
We have to make sure these guys are honest because anything could happen in the NFL. You see things around the league I never thought would happen, but we don’t want to be on that reel. So just keeping these guys honest and making them really think about it as much as possible but still get their blocks when the ball is kicked deep.
Q. You talked about the mental aspect of CB Zech McPhearson on that onside kick. What about the physical aspect to remain focused on the ball knowing you’re going to get clobbered there? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah, you just learn to respect all these guys in the NFL. That’s a guy looking at the ball, not being fearful there are two guys unblocked coming at him, to have that mental aspect and that physical aspect — and it’s kudos to our strength staff and them in the off-season to get them ready to play in some physical games right there.
Detroit is a very physical team. They came at him. He was able to stay composed right there, caught it, and protected himself by going down right there. It was a pretty impressive play for [CB] Zech [McPhearson]. Zech has done an outstanding job from year one to year two just in learning the entirety of the special teams, the grasping it and becoming a leader on the outside. He had two tackles as a gunner out there. He’s come leaps and bounds, and we’re going to lean on him. He’s still going to get better and better at it. He was just upstairs with [Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler Brown chomping at the bit to get ready for Minnesota.
So, it’s kudos to those guys really trying to get ahead and get ready for our next opponent.
Q. On the next kickoff after the onsides kick, you had to use the time-out there, is that one you accept it and you save, or is there anything you can do when you’re lined up prepared for the onsides kick to not take it? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: In that situation just how the game was going, I think the great communication between myself and [Head] Coach [Nick] Sirianni to say, ‘Hey, let’s take the safer route right here just in case.’ You never know what’s going to happen. After the time-out we got our hands team in there and they kicked it, and it was a touchback.
So, we’d rather be on the safer side, protecting a two-score game against an NFC rival right there. You want to win at any cost, so right there I thought we took the right, safe route right there, but the communication was great between myself and Coach Sirianni, so give me that situation again, I would probably do the same thing.
Q. In terms of communication between you and Head Coach Nick Sirianni at the end of the game when it’s 3rd and short, are you preparing to send the punt unit on if need be, or was it your understanding that you guys were going to go for it? (Bo Wulf)
MICHAEL CLAY: I’m preparing for everything. I’m preparing to send the punt team, preparing to keep them off the field, but once again, the communication from Coach Sirianni to myself was outstanding. It’s one of those things where you feel really confident going into 3rd and short, 4th downs that you know, all right, he’s going to tell me this, get our guys ready for any possible situation.
Q. Looking ahead to Monday, considering how long Minnesota Vikings WR Jalen Reagor was here and how long you guys worked together, how do you view that? Is it a disadvantage that he knows so much of what you guys ran here, or is it an advantage that you guys worked together for so long? (Josh Tolentino)
MICHAEL CLAY: Viewing the prep against [Minnesota Vikings WR] Jalen [Reagor]? I’m not just prepping for Jalen, I’m prepping for the Minnesota Vikings. I respect Jalen and everything he did for my time here. Me and him had a really good relationship, so I only wish him the best in Minnesota, but I do have to get these guys ready to play against a very good special teams unit. [Minnesota Vikings Special Teams Coordinator] Matt Daniels has got those guys rolling right there. They have some players, the [Minnesota Vikings CB] Kris Boyd’s of the world, the [Minnesota Vikings LB] Troy Dye’s of the world. We have to be ready for everything, including Jalen.
He is still a very dangerous returner. You can’t bat an eye at a guy that’s had a punt return for a touchdown, and you have a kick returner from Iowa State [Minnesota Vikings RB Kene Nwangwu] that had two as a rookie. You have to be ready for everything.
I wish everything the best for Jalen, for himself and his family and everything, but we have to get ready for a game come Monday night.
Q. I don’t know if you saw the Vikings-Seahawks game last night, but at the end it looked like one of the teams played for a 64-yard field goal. What’s the edge of K Jake Elliott’s range that you would feel comfortable doing that, where you say, okay, once we’re at this point we’re in his range and you can play that way? (Mike Sielski)
MICHAEL CLAY: I wish I had a definite answer for you, but there are so many variables that go into it; wind; what side are we going, where are we kicking towards. I guess you guys have seen it in his rookie year, he hit that 61-yarder here in the Linc. Everything changes.
Again, that goes back to the communication, how he’s feeling in pregame, what’s the wind doing. The wind could change; the wind could be a 180 right there. So, all in the communication. Communication is a big thing in terms of that for us, special teams and the head man right there, like hey, this is his range, this is the line we feel comfortable, whether it’s end of half or game winner. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Once again, it just goes back down to the communication from myself, to [Special Teams Quality Control Coach] Tyler Brown, to [K] Jake [Elliott], to the head man in terms of those situations.
Q. How did you feel about your kick return game? You guys got a couple of opportunities. A, why did you default to WR Quez Watkins in the end, and how do you guys think you performed in that aspect? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: Obviously we want to get more yards than we got in the kick return game. I thought they handled the situation at the end very well when we did have hands and they popped it up to [WR] Quez [Watkins]. He did the right thing; he got as much yards as he possibly could, then not to get tackled, not to get touched in that situation.
But we’d like to get a little bit more downhill with it. Talking with Quez and everything, we want to be as greedy as possible and we’re trying to get as many yards as possible, and we still want to strive and be way better at that. So that’s one thing that we have to get better at.
But I thought the front line — Detroit is a very good special teams unit, and they’re very good in the kickoff coverage for a reason. Kudos to our practice squad to get our guys ready for all the twist game. We were on our blocks, we just wanted to get a little bit more movement to give our returners more open lanes instead of having color in the running lane right there where they have to abort. But we still want to get some more movement, get some better yards in our kick return game.