We'll be profiling in the coming weeks the several new members that head coach Rex Ryan and the Jets have added to the coaching staff for the 2012 season. Today's profile: wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal:
Sanjay Lal, being a West Coast guy for some time and one who has an eye for details outside of football, has noticed a bit of a difference between Oakland, Calif., and Florham Park, N.J.
"There's the change of weather. And there are no leaves on the trees," said Lal, detecting some Jersey traits despite this mild northeastern winter from outside his office in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "But I like where this is located. I like the outdoors."
Football fans might expect him to see a few differences between the same-as-it-ever-was vertical approach of the Raiders, where he coached the previous five seasons, and the Rex Ryan ground-and-pound philosophy. But despite having traveled from west to east, he so far hasn't noticed a change in style.
"That's because everywhere I've been, our receivers took a lot of pride in our blocking, which fits in with what we're doing here," Lal explained. "The harder you block, the more it'll open up the passing game for you — I truly believe that. DBs don't like to be uncomfortable. So when we attack them in the running game, it opens up everything for us in the passing game."
That sounds like the rationale behind coordinator Tony Sparano's scheme, with which he seeks to establish the run yet also gain yards in tasty chunks.
"Great Love of Technique"
Lal has a cerebral, technique-oriented approach to his portion of the game, which has always been about catching passes. He said he was a "good but not great" Texas high school receiver who walked on at UCLA, then transferred after two years to Washington, where he teamed up with a QB by the name of Mark Brunell and was a member of the Huskies' 1992 national championship team.
Lal was invited to the Raiders' 1995 camp but while he was in training he tore a hamstring and was sidelined for a year and a half. He went to camp with the St. Louis Rams in '98 and NFL Europe's Scottish Claymores in '99 but also fought injuries.
"That was the story of my career. I overtrained. I was always trying to do too much. I had a bunch of hamstring issues," he said. "The same energy I put into overtraining in college I put into trying to make the NFL. I went to a couple of camps but I couldn't stay healthy. I kept getting better and almost making the roster. The same cycle repeated itself in NFL Europe."
But he put his downtime to great use, laying the foundation for the less physically stressful coaching career to come.
"That period did teach me how to study wide receivers," he said. "I was trying so hard to improve myself that I studied every bit of film and videotape I could find on the best receivers, trying to see how they perfected their routes. I'd be hurt but I'd get Jerry Rice tape and study how he ran his out routes, I'd break his footwork down.
"I have a great love of technique. Now I can look at any route our receivers run and I can see how to fix it or make it better."
Lal's Guiding Principle
He began to do that in and around the San Francisco Bay area, in high school, at community college, and at the University of California. He didn't have to go far to make his leap to the pros, joining the Raiders in '07 (on a staff that for two years included Rob Ryan), working with the receivers all five years and taking over as the WRs coach in '09.
Every year in the past three years the Oakland wideouts improved in key measures such as yards per catch and catches, yards and touchdowns per game. Last year the Raiders WRs, led by Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Denarius Moore and including Chaz Schilens, who just signed with the Jets, averaged 14.9 yards per catch, a major component of the Silver & Black's 13.1-yard average on all receptions that is the 16th-best average among the NFL's 382 single-season passing offenses since 2000.
The Jets wide receivers don't appear to be quite as fast as those Raiders at the moment, before free agency has run its course and the draft is held. But headlined by Santonio Holmes, it's a group with plenty of skill and Lal is eager to help polish it.
"My time, my M.O., comes at night when I think about how can I make Santonio's out route crisper and things like that. That's how I get my enjoyment," Lal said. "I'll leave no stone unturned to make our receivers better. Everything I do every day is guided by that principle."