The Lions trailed 31-21 in the third quarter when they attempted to close the gap with an onside kick. Unluckily for the Lions, Clay's special teams unit is disciplined. They were prepared for this. Almost anticipatory.
Zech McPhearson observed a change in the kicker's routine; he realized the play and recovered the ball, preventing a Lions' possession with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"I could tell the guys until I'm blue in the face, watch out for the onside kick, but kudos to Zech to stay disciplined, stay in there at that time of the game not to panic. He stayed patient right there," Clay said.
He'd carried out a play just like it during practice in preparation for Week 1.
"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," Clay said.
"Then you can see also 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."
Clay is in his second season in the coordinator role. He'd assisted the 49ers' special teams in years prior, but his NFL coaching beginnings took place in Philadelphia during the 2015 season. He worked alongside Sunday's competition – Lions Special Teams Coordinator David Fipp, who had held the role in Philadelphia from 2013-20.
The play was a testament to Clay's coaching ahead of the game.
"We had gone over it and we've worked on it in practice," he said. "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 1 and help the team in any way we possibly can."
Another positive of the special teams performance was rookie receiver Britain Covey. The Eagles elevated Covey from the practice squad to handle punt return duties on Sunday.
"He's cool, calm, and collected. It's like having a veteran out there. He catches it, gets downhill," Clay said.
Clay's description was spot on – Covey was poised in his NFL debut. He signaled and made a fair catch despite being bumped by teammate Zach Pascal on the play.
"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," said Clay. "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 Britain 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."
Similarly to McPhearson, Clay attributes Covey's success to preparation. Punt returns get extra attention on Thursday and Clay said Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead gets creative during practice.
"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."