Spagnola: Just What The Teacher's Preaching


OXNARD, Calif. – Maybe, just maybe, now everyone will start having a better understanding of what Sanjay Lal has been preaching since he arrived.

He's the new wide receivers coach. He has a particular way of teaching, along with instituting some unique drills into practices. And, the assistant coach/teacher expects his receivers to perform with precise precision, from the oldest of the bunch, 29-year-old Deonte Thompson, to the youngest of the group, 22-year-old Noah Brown.

Lal is not as bent out of shape as most everyone else that his stable of 13 receivers does not include a true "No. 1" receiver, someone in this league who has established himself as a perennial 80-catch, 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown receiver.

And Lal doesn't seem as if he goes to bed every night with high anxiety because that kind of guy, Dez Bryant, is no longer a Dallas Cowboy after eight seasons, most spectacular, but of late, injury-riddled and average by the three-time Pro Bowler and franchise career-leader with 73 touchdown-catches standard.

Some even think Lal encouraged the Cowboys to turn Dez loose, which in his words is the farthest from the truth, going as far as to say, "I was looking forward to coaching Dez Bryant."

So about a week ago Sanjay was high P-Oed when one of his quotes was twisted like a pretzel to infer he was dissing Dez. Furthermore, as is the case these days, once these quotes are on the internet, anyone, even those who are not there for the interview, then take the quote, and further twist the truth to fit their narrative.

The question was asked: "Are you going to have down-the-field guys who can go up and get a ball?"

Lal's response was this: "I would think so. I would rather have down-the-field guys that go run down a ball and score than live in the back-shoulder world. We want touchdowns. We have some of those."

That then became interpreted as a shot at Dez.

Sure, the back-shoulder throw and fade routes were Dez specialties. He was good at those. But come on folks, Dez Bryant didn't finish his eight-year career with the Cowboys third all-time with 531 receptions, a single-season record high of 16 touchdown receptions and six of his eight seasons with at least 50 receptions (third all-time) by just catching back-shoulder throws or fades.

But in Lal's mind, he was referring to guys succeeding all over the field by running precise routes and becoming multi-dimensional receivers, sort of what every coach would want out of his stable of receivers.

Listen up to what sixth-year veteran Tavon Austin had to say of his new receivers coach:

"Coach Sanjay is doing a really good job of teaching all the wideouts how to run go-routes. It's not all about out-running (the DB), there's technique to a go-route."

Oh there sure is.

Let me take you to Thursday night, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, the Cowboys at the San Francisco 30-yard line, second-and-7, just five minutes, 21 second into the Cowboys' first preseason game of 2018.

Michael Gallup, the rookie third-round draft choice, who came to the Cowboys with 176 catches during his two-year career at Colorado State, is lined up wide right. San Francisco's corner Jimmie Ward is in single coverage.

"Coach tells us all the time, you've got to be able to win nine-routes," Gallup said. "They're going to load the box (against Zeke), you've got to have wide receivers out there putting out production, so that's what we're trying to do."

Gallup wasn't even sure the play-call was intended for him. But Dak Prescott, with time, recognized the single coverage. No safety over the top. Just Gallup and the veteran corner Ward. Gallup brushed off a Ward hand check, smoking Ward and late-arriving safety Adrian Colbert for a 30-yard touchdown reception.

Fancy that, a wide receiver who can "run down the ball and score," thanks to running a route he is being taught to run, emphasizing what Austin said about "there's technique to a go-route."

You bet there is.

The former quarterback/head coach Jason Garrett appreciated the play by his rookie receiver

"Michael made a really good release," Garrett said. "It was a good throw and catch.

"(Gallup) beat the guy, he beat the guy at the line of scrimmage and was able to make a play on the ball down the field. That's really what you want when you get a receiver isolated outside with no real safety help, you have to be able to cash in on it. Dak made a really good throw but (Gallup) gave him a place to throw it and then he finished the play.

"So, that's certainly what you're looking for in that situation."


A perfect example of what Lal is trying to point out in general about his group of receivers running precise routes, never intending to diss Dez.

And this game was not all about Gallup either. Allen Hurns had a nice catch. Austin had two nice catches, while lining up as an outside receiver, not just some "toy" in the slot. Lance Lenoir Jr. had two catches, including a great route in the back of the end zone, faking in, and spinning on a dime out for the 2-yard, toe-tapping touchdown.

Now in no way is any of this suggesting off one preseason game – heck just one possession by the first-team offense minus Ezekiel Elliott and Cole Beasley – these Cowboys receivers are a finish product. Nope. We need to see more.

But when you see what you saw Thursday night, see a rookie receiver run down, catch a deep ball and score, well, that's encouraging.

"That's a good feeling," Gallup said. "Quarterbacks need that as well. (But) especially for me being so young, being a rookie, I needed that boost of confidence as well.

"It was a good feeling, but we've got to have a lot more."

Of course they do. But it was a good start.

And a great example of what Sanjay Lal has been talking about.