There are going to be a lot of new faces in Jacksonville for the 2021 season. There is a new regime leading the organization, a new coaching staff on the sidelines, and the roster is continuing to change and take shape ahead of the team's 10 selections in next week's draft.
Among those new faces is wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal, who will be tasked with leading one of the most important positions on head coach Urban Meyer's roster.
"When I was able to get an interview, I didn't really know what to expect, and coach walked into the room. And he said 'I just want you to know, in case you already don't know, my background is a receiver coach. So this is a monster hire for me.' And that kind of got my competitive juices flowing like, I was like, okay, I want this job, because I want to blow this guy away with, you know, my knowledge and my passion for the position," Lal told Jaguar Report this week.
Lal comes to the Jaguars with years of experience, coaching in the NFL since 2007 and serving as a receiver's coach in every season since 2009. During that time, Lal coached three Pro Bowl receivers and a second-team All-Pro. Last year he served on the Seattle Seahawks' staff, while spending the previous two years with the Cowboys.
Now he is the man set to lead the Jaguars' most dynamic position group into the future. Meyer, a former wide receivers coach himself, has long held the opinion that wide receivers are one of the most important units on the offense, creating a high expectation for Lal that the coach is excited to meet. Standards that Lal describes in just a few words.
"Elite competitors and relentless in their effort."
2021 will be the first year Lal will be a member of a Meyer staff. Lal noted they met when Lal was with the New York Jets during Tim Tebow's season with the Jets (2012), but that was the totality of his experience with Meyer. But despite not working with Meyer previously, Lal knew he wanted to be a part of what Meyer was building in Jacksonville.
"I always admired from afar what he had done in the college level and how every program whether it was a like a power five or a smaller school, he always found a way to turn it," Lal said.
"So when I started hearing that he might be interested in this job, it kind of perked my ears up and just intrigued by someone who was that good at building culture and building a winning organization. And the chance to be, you know, in the ground floor of that was really intriguing."
Lal will be around one familiar face in Jacksonville in passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who Lal coached with in Seattle and Indianapolis. The two will join offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as Meyer's top offensive hires, forming a trio that will have their fingerprints all over Jacksonville's passing game in 2021 and beyond.
Few positions on Jacksonville's roster are as currently enticing as the receiver position, however. Lal, like all coaches on the Jaguars' staff, has a tough job facing him after the team's 1-15 season in 2020. But he is also entering a room with talented young receivers, a few experienced veterans, and an offense that aligns with his philosophy on the position.
"Yeah, I'm obviously biased, but I've always felt they [receivers] don't get enough value. I mean, you can have the best scheme in the world and the best quarterback, and if the routes are not detailed, and the receivers aren't precision players, it doesn't matter what you run," Lal said.
"So if you can't defeat tight, man-to-man, if you're not detailed in your routes, if you don't show speed vertically off the ball, you know, there's 100 other things receivers have to do. If those aren't done correctly, your offense fails. And that's why it's so important. And then their value in the run game is off the charts, also. The 20-yard gains go to touchdowns, five-yard gaims go to 20 yard-gains. So I just feel it's such an important position, and somewhat undervalued when you get into the nuances of what that position could truly be."
Among Lal's most important tasks with the Jaguars will undoubtedly be the job he does developing former second-round picks DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault over the next several months. Each is immensely talented with potential that has yet to be unlocked. Potential that, as Lal puts it, is unlimited in many ways.
Shenault is one of the Jaguars' true wild cards entering 2021 and beyond. He is one of the roster's most naturally gifted athletes but it is clear the Jaguars still need to find the right role for the physical receiver. The No. 42 overall pick from last year's draft recorded 58 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns (along with 18 carries for 91 yards), leading all rookie wideouts in 73.4% catch percentage.
"First of all, when you see him in person, this guy is a specimen. He's a true physical specimen," Lal said about Shenault. "I think his ceiling is unlimited. I really do.
"Obviously he has to stay healthy, be able to practice every day, all the things that everyone else has to do. But I don't really see a ceiling for him. So I'm extremely excited to work with him."
Shenault was restricted by his circumstances as a rookie as much as any draft pick on the roster last season. He battled through injuries, missing two games and playing 56% of the team's snaps. He also dealt with a revolving door at quarterback and an offensive scheme that restricted his overall ability to impact the offense as a receiver.
The Jaguars have a vision for Shenault and his development, though. And now it will be up to him and Lal to work together to make that vision come to life in 2021 and beyond.
"But I think we can, without giving away what our plans are for him, I think we can find a nice niche for him that is more receiver-driven for sure," Lal said.
Then there is Chark. Chark is more proven and experienced than Shenault, with three seasons under his belt and a trip to the Pro Bowl after a 1,000 season in 2019 on his resume.
Chark is entering his fourth season and in many respects could be expected to be the team's No. 1 wide receiver in 2021, but he will have to clear his own hurdles as well. His numbers took a dip as the offense and quarterback play regressed last season, catching 53 passes for 706 yards and five touchdowns with just a 57% catch percentage.
But Lal and the Jaguars know what Chark can do and how dangerous he can be when the offense is clicking. In many ways, Chark is the offense's current top weapon due to his explosiveness and an element of speed that Lal and the Jaguars are going to try to implement more and more.
"DJ: phenomenal ball skills. He's got the timed speed. We need him to play to that speed, which he will. Again, he can be a game-changer at the X position because he can go vertical," Lal said. "And he can not only run vertical routes, but he can run intermediate routes too. So I think he can be special in his own regard too."
The Jaguars' receiver group is more than just Chark and Shenault, of course. There is Collin Johnson and Terry Godwin, who Lal says have been steadily working out at the facility along with Chark and Shenault throughout the offseason.
Then there is the leader of the group: Marvin Jones.
Jones signed a two-year contract with the Jaguars this March and is easily the most accomplished receiver on the roster. Jones, 31, is entering his tenth NFL season. Meanwhile, Chark, 24, and Shenaut, 22, have combined for four NFL seasons. Chark and Shenault have played a combined 53 NFL games and caught a combined 198 passes. Meanwhile, Jones has played in 112 career games and caught 423 career passes.
Jones is one of the NFL's most productive receivers in recent years. Along with the leadership value he brings to the roster, he is very much a receiver who can still be a major part of a team's passing attack.
In the last two seasons alone, only five players have caught more touchdowns than Jones, who recorded 138 catches on 206 targets for 1,757 yards (12.7 yards per catch) and 18 in the last two seasons. By comparison, DJ Chark is the only Jaguars receiver with double-digit touchdowns in the last two seasons with 13.
Lal has long admired Jones and his game. Now, he gets a chance to coach the veteran wideout who has produced since his first day in the league.
"Yeah, a play stuck out for me when we're watching him on tape. It's against Chicago and he catches the ball -- an over route -- and just lowers his shoulder and runs over the safety," Lal said.
"But that one play kind of summed him up. Just tough. Mentally strong. I would argue he probably had one of his best years of his career last year. Some of the catches he made, the touchdowns he caught. That was a big-time year for him."
What Jones does on the field for the Jaguars' passing offense will be key in 2021. He will likely be the team's rookie quarterback's safety blanket throughout the passer's first season. And he will, as Lal puts it, do it all the way it is supposed to be done.
"And the beauty in him is he's going to do it the right way," Lal said.
"You can -- it's hit or miss with veterans sometimes in a room with young guys. If you have a veteran who's trying to protect themselves, that's not good for the room. I see Marvin as an unselfish leader. he's going to do it the right way. So it's a good benefit for the young guys."