Q. WR Britain Covey had a big game; I guess since week 13, it’s out there, he’s been the No. 1 punt returner. What do you think has changed from early in his rookie season that he’s kind of taken off? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think I kind of alluded to what we said last week, a lot of it is just experience. He’s doing more time on task and everything. Britain as well deserves the credit, but it’s a lot of the guys that help out on that. I mean, especially this past game.
[CB] Kelee Ringo and [CB] Josh Jobe, they’re in the toughest position being one-on-one against a gunner who’s going full speed forward and they’re in a back pedal. By having those guys kind of slow down the gunner gives Britain that extra time where he can see the whole thing, so Britain does a really good job of setting it, catching the ball, and getting the yards, but those guys on the outside, we really preach that if you can get the returner started, it starts with you guys on the outside. Last week it was Joshua Jobe, [CB] Eli Ricks and Kelee did a heck of a job to at least get Britain going.
Q. What does it take from that role to stop a gunner? (Dave Zangaro)
MICHAEL CLAY: I mean, it takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of technique. [Special Teams Assistant] Tyler Brown does a great job with those guys, and it takes a lot of trust for the returner to believe, all right, these guys on the outside are going to handle some gunners where I have an opportunity to go and make a big play, get a chunk yard.
There are also some traits that help out the vice. If you look out there with Joshua, Eli and Kelee, they’re tall corners and they all can run, so that helps out a lot in terms of getting the hands on, slowing down the gunners, and giving Covey a lot of space to go out and make a chunk play.
Q. K Jake Elliott made all his kicks, so I assume the process of holding between a new holder and Jake Elliott was seamless; is that the case, and how was that process last week in preparing? (Jeff McLane)
MICHAEL CLAY: Usually if he makes all the kicks, it’s going to be as seamless as possible. But we are still going to strive to get better and better. It was a really good job out of [LS] Rick [Lovato] and — Rick really just to make it easy for [P] Braden [Mann], and Braden, he’s done this for a few years. He has good hands.
The more trust they have in each other, the more seamless the operation is going to be. But it was nice to go out there, get those kicks under our belt, and Jake struck the ball well again. We’re going to keep it rolling.
Q. WR Devon Allen got his first crack at an NFL game, returning a kickoff. What do you like about him in that role, and is it something you could see for him going forward? (Ed Kracz)
MICHAEL CLAY: Yeah. Devon did it obviously a little bit at Oregon. Hard to keep a guy that has Olympic world class speed away from touching the football as a kickoff returner. But Devon does a great job doing anything he can for us.
The more you can do, the longer you stay in this league. Devon has done a good job filling in that role. We have quite a few guys that can kickoff return, but the more things that Devon can do, the better it’s going to help us as a team.
Q. Any other takeaways from P Braden Mann’s performance? I know he just had the one punt. (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: One punt. Probably get a few more yards out of it, but I thought Braden did a really good job, saw just how the ebbs and flows of the game, you’re kind of just waiting for that opportunity, but if the offense keeps getting 1st downs, I don’t think anybody is going to be pretty mad at it.
But again, for the first game, seamless in terms of the operation. He had good work pregame. Hopefully the second week in is even more seamless.
Q. After the game WR Britain Covey said that after the first punt return that he had considered taking the ball across the field and doing something similarly to what he did on the second to ultimately have the big gain, but you had a rush called so he decided to just go vertical with it. What was the conversation like on the sideline after the fact that empowered him to eventually just go for it and take the risk? (Olivia Reiner)
MICHAEL CLAY: I think a lot has to do with the film study Britain does throughout the week. Obviously last week we met for like an hour just watching all of his returns, and just finding out the personnel that we’re going against, how do they cover down the field. Obviously he did a great job getting those 14 yards off the first punt, the pressure our of DB [DE Derek Barnett] and the interior, [S] Sydney [Brown], [LB] Nolan [Smith] was good because it gets into the opponent’s mindset, all right, they’re rushing, I have to get this ball off a little bit quicker, then it doesn’t allow me time to get the hang time we want.
So, 48 yards, yes, it’s great, but if it’s at 4-2, Britain’s mindset is I’m going to get this 1st down, I’m going to mitigate it, then that’s 34 yards, we were happy with that.
Then the next punt you see [DE Derek Barnett] DB and Nolan have a little bit of a bull rush on their wings, and now I’ve got to get that out, and again, the hang time is not great, but now I have a little bit more space with more yardage to actually stretch out the coverage unit, and it’s tough for a coverage unit when a guy is running full speed sideways you’re thinking I’ve got to meet him sideways, but as soon as you turn your shoulders in a coverage phase, now you can’t cross over and get square whereas the returner now is squared up, he can get one cut and get going.
I thought Britain did a great job of stretching the coverage, then puncturing the coverage and getting up the field, and he ran through a tackle and got to the sideline and did a heck of a job.
It’s just more of Britain’s understanding of what the coverage unit is doing that week, and every coverage unit is different. We go in, new game plan every week, say hey, this is where we can probably attack them at, and hopefully we keep this momentum going from the punt return standpoint.
Q. You mentioned that WR Britain Covey is quirky, and obviously we interact with him in the locker room, but behind the scenes what makes him so quirky in those settings? (EJ Smith)
MICHAEL CLAY: Everybody is quirky in their own right. Everybody has their own little different things, but Britain is awesome. He’s awesome to be around. The players love him. He’s a very, very funny guy. But he’s just like everybody else; no personality is the same. I’m sure some people say I’m quirky in my own right. Having Britain around is outstanding.
Q. When you have a guy like CB Josh Jobe who’s playing a lot of reps on defense and on teams, how do you guys monitor whether he’s gassed, he’s got to go back out there? You have a few guys playing starting on offense and defense and playing reps on teams. How do you keep track of that, make sure a guy has still got his legs? (Reuben Frank)
MICHAEL CLAY: It’s just the conversation. We try to have as much conversation throughout the game, hey, how you feeling, throughout practice, hey, can we get you on this one.
I think the trust factor between ourselves as a coaching staff, the strength staff does a great job of getting these guys ready and prepared to play these games. It’s really the players. The players go out there, and as tired as they want to be, they know that they’re playing for each other, and that goes back to [Head] Coach [Nick] Sirianni with all the connection and everything, so they know they have an opportunity to spring a big play or help the team out in any way. It’s tough to talk a guy off not getting off the field.
It’s more of the players trusting one another, connecting with each other, and wanting to make a big play, but they do an outstanding job on the strength staff and the treatment staff of getting these guys ready and prepared to play a 60-minute game. It’s kudos to those guys behind the scenes to have these guys ready to go, regardless of how many plays they’re playing.
Q. In WR Britain Covey’s case, he missed a good chunk of the summer, did not make the 53. Did he have to show you something in those first two, three weeks for you to feel comfortable that he was who you thought he was? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: I don’t know if he needed to show me something in the first three weeks as in — you have a full season from last year, and you get a good feeling off a guy like — you can trust him. You know he can be a chunk yardage guy, and he’s just kind of proven he knows what he is, and he tells you who he is. I one hundred percent trust him in that case, and I think it’s just showing to everybody else that he is a very good returner in this league, not just a college returner.
In college, he was outstanding, but he’s just doing a great job of understanding his role on this team, taking one hundred percent control of that role, and it really is the belief of the other 10 guys now, with 18 back there, if we hold these guys up or there’s a lot of yards in between the punt and the coverage unit, we can make a big play. It really kind of energizes everybody else.
It’s really cool seeing at the end of the play Covey kind of getting mobbed over there by Derek Barnett, [S Terrell] Edmunds and all those guys, Nolan Smith, guys that are just getting their feet wet in the NFL, so it’s really cool to see the camaraderie they have in terms of the unit.
Q. How much has that trust factor sort of improved as you go through and have more success with the returns? WR Britain Covey said early last year the offense was so good it was about getting them that first 1st down, just getting the football, giving it to the offense. How much has that trust factor improved so that he can have a longer leash, for lack of a better term? (John McMullen)
MICHAEL CLAY: I don’t think there’s a term, a longer leash. I think going back to just the experience, Covey now understands — I think he has a better understanding of when those gunners are within five to seven yards, oh, they’re pretty much within two to three yards because they’re just so good in this league, whereas now he’s able to survey and everything kind of slows down a little bit more, where now I can take my time, OK, these guys are now getting blocked 10 to 12 yards, now I can really work my craft and get up the field.
So, the trust is always going to get better the more you’re around someone. I think that’s just human nature. The more times we’re able to give Covey a nice pocket for him to catch and let him do his thing, we’re going to keep using that as a benefit for us, but within the confines of doing what’s right for the team. We’re not going to go out there and try and take everything else out and everything. We’re going to do what’s right for the team because ultimately, it’s a team goal and a team game and we’re going to aim for being as helpful to this team to help us win.
Q. As a special teams guy and an Oregon guy, what was your reaction to that fake punt in that situation against Colorado? (Zach Berman)
MICHAEL CLAY: They had the right look and they ran it, kind of old school out of the archives. It’s nice to see the old alma mater live on the edge a little bit. Hey, go Ducks.
Q. What stands out about Washington on special teams? (Tim McManus)
MICHAEL CLAY: [Commanders Punter] Tress Way, heck of a punter, been doing it for a long time. They’re a veteran group. [Commanders Safety] Jeremy Reaves, he’s doing an outstanding job in that PP role, especially getting thrust in there halfway through the year. He’s done an unbelievable job in terms of impacting their punt coverage, so we have to really keep an eye on it.
It’s a veteran group. [Commanders Linebacker] David Mayo, I was with him in San Francisco, he’s just a savvy, veteran guy, seen a lot of ball, knows different returns, knows different techniques. So, we’ve got our work cut out.
[Commanders Special Teams Coordinator] Nate [Kaczor] does a great job, Nate [Kaczor] and [Commanders Assistant Special Teams Coach] Ben [Jacobs], in terms of getting these guys prepared, and they play until the whistle is blown. They play hard, they play violent, they play physical, so we’ve got our work cut out to match that intensity. It’s an NFC East game.
There’s a little bit of heightened — it’s an interdivision game. There’s always something to it. They’re right down the road, so we have to really dial in on our techniques, dial in on our mindset of ‘hey, we’ve got to go out there, we’ve got to put our best foot forward, we’ve got to help this team out,’ but we’ve got to know it’s going to be a violent game, and we’ve got to be able to bring it with us.